Although kusudama is an ancient form of art, it is not well known around the world as much as it is in Asia. In effort to show those that are curious, I will share a little bit of history about one of the hobbies I enjoy the most: origami kusudamas.
The Japanese kusudama (薬玉; lit. medicine ball) is a paper model that is usually (although not always) created by sewing multiple identical pyramidal units (usually stylized flowers folded from square paper) together through their points to form a spherical shape. Alternately the individual components may be glued together. (e.g. the kusudama in the lower photo is entirely glued, not threaded together) Occasionally, a tassel is attached to the bottom for decoration.
Kusudama originate from ancient Japanese culture, where they were used for incense and potpourri; possibly originally being actual bunches of flowers or herbs. The word itself is a combination of two Japanese words kusuri, Medicine, and tama, Ball. They are now typically used as decorations, or as gifts.
The kusudama is important in origami particularly as a precursor to the modular origami genre. It is often confused with modular origami, but is not such because the units are strung or pasted together, instead of folded together as most modular construction are made.
It is, however, still considered origami, although origami purists frown upon using its characteristic technique of threading or gluing the units together, while others recognize that early traditional Japanese origami often used both cutting (see thousand origami cranes or senbazuru) and pasting, and respect kusudama as an ingenious traditional paper folding craft in the origami family.
Modern origami masters such as Tomoko Fuse have created new kusudama designs that are entirely assembled without cutting, glue or thread except as a hanger.
Kusudama (medicine ball) is believed to have originated in the Heaian Period (794 - 1192). At first fragrant woods and herbs were placed in a small cloth bag, which was decorated with blossoms of sobu or iris and other flowers. Long silk threads of five different colours were attached to it. This was hung in the house on May 5 to dispel evil spirits and disease.
The Emperor invited nobles and officials to Butokuden Palace on this day and gave to each a kusudma and drinks of sake. It was a ceremony to insure the happiness and good health of all. This ancient custom of giving kusudama continued until the beginning of the 17th century. It was discontinued by the Emperor Gomizuo (1611-29). "Since that time, kusudama has lost all its connection with Court functions. It came to be used as an ornament in the households of the common people, or as a plaything for children. Thus, the original meaning of kusudama to ward off evil and sickness with the fragrant medicines and woods became forgotten."
The Beauty and the Colors of the Kusudama World