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Origami and Robots

Commentary by Simon Nguyen

Among the top industrial countries, none is more technology-focused than Japan. The country has the highest college graduate rate in science and engineering. Most of Japan’s exports are technology-related products including automobiles, electronics and machineries. Japanese brands like Toyota, Sony and Toshiba are well-known to world’s consumers.

While you are reading this, you may be thinking in your head how science must have played a dominant factor in the education of Japanese children. The truth is of the contrary. 

While the Japanese seek to stimulate young minds with science and technology, a large chunk of the curriculum is devoted to art and not science. The reason for this is simple. The Japanese believe that having a creative mind is the key to becoming the next great engineer or master designer of technology. They also believe that exposing their youths to the arts is a great way to stimulate and promote one’s imagination and visual insights.

Consequently, Japanese school children are encouraged to draw anything their imagination could come up with. Some draw mountains and grass fields. Others draw cartoon characters and robots. These drawings may look innocent and insignificant, but many of them have the potential to become the engine that drives future innovation and technology.

Case in point, there was a series of manga (Japanese comics) in the 1960s and 1970s depicting the development of highly intelligent robots that could be used in both warfare and civilian tasks. The idea was well-received at the time generating a strong fascination with robots and smart technologies among Japanese kids. Today, Japan leads the world in robotics having more than half of the world’s active industrial robots.

Another form of arts that Japanese children are being exposed to is origami – the Japanese art of paper folding. Virtually everyone who lives in Japan is skilled at this art form. While most outsiders admire origami for its unique craft, they often overlook how much craftsmanship and analytical skills are involved in implementing such an art.

Origami demands a great deal of details and meticulousness from the artist. Let face it, to turn a plain sheet of paper into something so lively and realistic is never an ordinary task. Having exposed to this amazing art, Japanese children are trained to think critically; they also accumulate the valuable lessons of craftsmanship.

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