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How to Make a Japanese Notan-Inspired Ornament

My 5th graders loved making these Japanese Notan-inspired ornaments. “Notan” is a Japanese word meaning “dark/light”. It represents the design concept of arranging dark and light (2D) shapes together in a harmonious way.

The Japanese Notan effect is easy to achieve with cut-paper. It tends to look more complicated than it really is, and students are fascinated with the finished product!

This Japanese Notan-inspired paper ornament is fun to make and works well with any contrasting colors.

How to make your own Japanese Notan-inspired ornaments

You Will Need:

  • 2 pieces of contrasting colored paper, any size – just a little bigger than you want your finished ornament to be
  • scissors
  • glue stick
  • hole punch (1/8″ hole is best)
  • thin metallic cord or ornament hanger (a repurposed paper clip, bent to form a hook shape, will also work for hanging your ornament!)


1. Place your two contrasting papers one on top of the other and fold them in half… folding either direction will work.

2. With both papers still folded together, cut the outside shape of your ornament, beginning and ending on the folded edge (you can draw it first, if you need to).

3. Unfold and set one of the papers aside (this will become your background paper).

4. Cut the other paper in half on the fold line. Set one of these halves aside for decorating the back of your ornament later.

5. Now cut a large single shape from the straight edge that used to be the fold of the paper you just cut in half. Make sure you cut only one shape, and begin and end on the same edge.

6. Lay this shape on your background paper so the outside edges match.

7. Next, flip that piece over so it becomes like a reverse “mirror image” of the “negative space” across from it.

8. Then, cut one more shape, as large as you can, from what’s left of the straight edge that used to be the fold.

9. Flip this piece over, creating another reverse mirror image across from it.

10. Glue all these pieces onto the background paper, always laying the straight edges along the fold of the background piece, directly across from their reverse mirror images.

11. Repeat steps 5-9 with the piece you set aside in step 4 to decorate the back.

12. Punch a small hole at the top and hang with a cord or ornament hanger.

(Note: Laminating these ornaments will assure they stand the test of time! Be sure to run your laminator on its slowest speed so you’ll get a good seal, since layered paper can sometimes cause the film to peel apart.)

For more DIY holiday decoration ideas, check out my Faux Stained Glass Ornaments, Origami Flower Balls, and Origami Crane Ornaments.

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