OAKLAND -- At a new storefront on College Avenue passers-by keep peeking in, one after another, irresistibly drawn to the brightly colored origami that hangs in the window of Taro's Origami Studio, which opened this past month.
According to owner Taro Yaguchi, the discipline and creativity of paper folding is more than just a hobby -- it's a way for children and adults to learn important skills and ways of thinking.
"Research has shown that paper folding is not only fun but an innovative method for people of all ages to develop important skills that might not otherwise be exercised," Yaguchi said.
The Rockridge studio is the second to open under the Taro's Origami Studio name, after the flagship studio in Brooklyn's Park Slope. More than a store, it offers classes, a unique teach-yourself tablet app and even birthday parties, summer camps and field trips. People can also wander in to purchase folding paper or books or just to marvel at the origami folded by the store manager, Ben Friesen.
"There's two origami studios in the U.S. -- we're both of them," Friesen said.
The new studio is a small but welcoming space with a long work table and a nook for smaller children. Colorful paper lines one wall, while the other shows examples of what you can learn at each level, or "kyu," of Yaguchi's unique system of learning. It's this method, which Yaguchi likens to belts in martial arts, that makes the studio different.
"For beginners, origami can seem very daunting," Yaguchi said. "Anyone who's looked at an origami book for the first time can easily feel overwhelmed with all the new lines, folds, shapes and terms."
Around 40 folds are divided into six color levels. Instead of actual belts, students earn bracelets for skills they master along the way.
"This way, students will be able to learn all of the easier folds and origami basics at the beginning and then once they master them, graduate up to harder and harder levels and models without ever feeling confused or overwhelmed," Yaguchi said.
According to Yaguchi, the benefits of learning origami are many, including demonstrating how patience, neatness and accuracy can get results.
"For many, it engenders a patience that leads to pride in one's work, the ability to focus energy, and increased self-esteem," he said.
Yaguchi said it also helps with cooperation, especially for children, as kids start to teach each other various steps. It also makes mathematical concepts become concrete as they take shape in three dimensions.
"Manipulating paper with their hands helps people learn concepts that may otherwise be rather abstract," he said.
Although the studio is just in its first few weeks of operation, Friesen said the Oakland children who had stopped by had already shown a pretty good aptitude for paper folding. And he should know. Friesen, who taught at the Brooklyn outpost of Taro's, has been folding his whole life.
"I like to say it's a combination of patience and accuracy," he said.
Yaguchi, a patent lawyer based in Tokyo and Philadelphia, grew up with origami but rediscovered his interest when he designed an origami novelty gift for his law firm. Soon he was designing new origami models, and eventually a new way of teaching that led him to open the first Taro's Origami Studio.
The Oakland studio is open Tuesday through Saturday, with two afternoon group classes and one evening group class each day. There's also a drop-in corner for ages 3 and older at which people can learn folds from Yaguchi's proprietary tablet app designed to teach in simple ways. Really passionate folders can schedule their own private lessons.
No matter what the age, Yaguchi and Friesen agree that folding engages something unique in people as they turn beautiful paper into lovely, three-dimensional forms.
"There's a way you're using your brain that's very different from playing Xbox," Friesen said.
What: Taro's Origami Studio, 5322 College Ave., Oakland
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays