Select a primary language to get the most out of our Journal pages:
English 日本語 Español Português

We have made a lot of improvements to our Journal section pages. Please send your feedback to!



Death of an Origamist

Chapter One—Que Sera, Sera

For the past three days, Sachi Yamane was in heaven. Origami heaven, that is. Not only was she immersed in her most favorite pastime—folding square pieces of paper into three-dimensional sculptures, but she also was away from her everyday life of tending to gunshot wounds, battered women, and sick babies. She loved—well, used to love her work as an emergency room nurse—but lately, especially after the untimely passing of coworkers (from the stress, everyone presumed), she was just counting the days to her retirement at age sixty-two. She was still 117 days away.

In the meantime, she took breaks like this one at the Left Coast Origami Convention in Anaheim. It wasn’t one of the main conventions in the art of origami, but it was nonetheless very special. Like other gatherings there were classes and a swap of origami cards. The swap was last night—a flurry of trading personalized cards decorated with origami. Sachi’s featured origami representing her two roommates, a calico tabby named Tora and a black cat, Lucky. Those two were her constant friends since her husband, Scott, had died suddenly two years ago. Her entering retirement solo hadn’t been part of the plan.

In spite of this setback, Sachi tried to remain optimistic. She was the oldest of four. Her parents had been held in a camp in Rohwer, Arkansas, during World War II, yet her mother, a lifelong Doris Day fan, trained Sachi to look on the bright side of things: “Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be.” So whenever the emotion seemed to rise in her, Sachi opened a new package of origami paper. Each straight crease seemed to mitigate the pain. Origami, based on geometry, was logical. It was constant and made sense.

About a year after Scott died, Sachi came across a newly published book, Folding Anew. It was written by Craig Buck, who was also known as T-Rex for his complicated origami dinosaurs. But Buck was more than his Jurassic creations. A software designer, he used origami to calm the soul. He had special one-on-one sessions with top CEOs in Silicon Valley. He was an origami guru and when Sachi heard that he’d be teaching a class at this convention in Anaheim, she knew that she had to go.

Competition to get into his select class was stiff. Her origami friend and convention roommate, Barbara Lu, also applied. “Usually it’s first come, first served. I don’t get what he wants—fold something that represents who you are?”

Barbara created her signature piece, an otter with brown origami paper holding a gray open clam.

Sachi decided to go more abstract. She folded a heart—not like a “love” heart, but a representation of a real one. Scott’s heart that had failed him. And then mini-insects that flew out of the heart’s broken center.

“So cute,” Barbara said, examining Sachi’s handiwork. “I love the tiny butterflies in the shiny paper.” But they weren’t butterflies, but moths, seeking to glom onto a source of sustenance.

Sachi didn’t expect to be chosen. But she was. She and only three others: a twelve-year-old folding savant, just known as Taku; an auburn-colored haired Holly West, who must have been in her twenties; and Jag Griffin, who was part of T-Rex’s folding institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“Jag? That doesn’t seem fair,” Barbara said after they learned who all had been accepted.

Sachi kind of agreed, but she really didn’t care. She was in and that’s all that mattered.

The night before the class, Sachi reread passages from Fold Anew. “Before, folds were limited to only three dozen steps, but now there are limitless folds. You need to open your mind to new possibilities.”

Barbara wanted to walk over with Sachi to the penthouse of the hotel where the special class was to be held. “I just want to meet him. Just say hello.” Barbara gave one of her smiles. Sachi knew what that smile meant.

“I can’t. I have strict instructions to come on my own.” Sachi held her phone with the e-mail in front of Barbara’s face.

That did little to restrain Barbara. She walked Sachi to the elevator. “Some people say that he’s a bit crazy,” Barbara said.

“You’ll hear him tonight at the closing dinner, anyway.” Sachi again tried to make Barbara feel better.

“Yeah, who cares.” Barbara turned away as the elevator door closed.

While in the elevator, Sachi took short, deep breaths. She was acting ridiculous, she knew. Like a schoolgirl. Sachi knew what Craig Buck looked and sounded like from TED talks she watched on her laptop. He had a shaven head, as smooth and buffed as a billiard cue ball. He wore turtleshell-framed glasses and was always impeccably dressed. Underneath the fancy clothing, Buck sported a lean but muscular build. Sachi couldn’t help but notice these things.

Standing in front of the penthouse door, she took another breath. Before she could actually knock, the door swung open. It was Buck, looking more dazzling than ever. The light bounced off his scalp and his glasses, creating a luminescent circle around his head.

“You must be Sachi,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for you. Please come in.”

Chapter Two >>


© 2015 Naomi Hirahara

Death of an Origamist fiction mystery naomi hirahara origami

About this series

Sachi Yamane, an emergency room nurse, escapes the pressure of life-and-death situations through the precise and calming world of origami. Attending an origami convention in Anaheim, California, she looks forward to meeting her idol, Craig Buck, a guru of not only origami but also life. Over the past two years, Sachi has gone through her set of losses—her husband’s fatal heart attack and unexpected deaths of some coworkers. Meeting Buck and being immersed in origami will again restore peace in Sachi’s life, or so she thinks. But as it turns out, the origami convention is not the safe haven that this sixty-one year old Sansei imagines it to be.

This is an original serialized story written for Discover Nikkei by award-winning mystery author Naomi Hirahara. 

Read Chapter One