A cool, unique, and easy-to-pack gift for fans of Japanese pop culture (including yourself).

As the country’s largest concentration of anime and video game specialty shops, Tokyo’s Akihabara neighborhood is a great place to visit to get a glimpse at Japanese pop culture. With Akihabara having become a major international tourism draw it’s also a place to see what’s resonating with travelers from overseas, which brings us to our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun’s recent visit to the neighborhood.

Yodobashi Akiba, as electronics megastore chain Yodobashi Camera calls its Akihabara branch, has a toy section up on its sixth floor. As he was walking through it P.K. spotted a group of a half-dozen foreigners clustered around one of the displays. P.K. doesn’t speak much English, but he could make out that they were excited by what they were looking at, saying things like “Cool!” and “Great!”

So what had them so impressed?

Paper Theater.

Made by Saitama Prefecture-based toy and novelty goods maker Ensky, Paper Theater isn’t brand-new, but the company is always bringing out new designs. They’re build-it-yourself papercraft art displays, featuring characters from a whole bunch of popular anime franchises.

What makes them especially cool is how intricate each kit is, and that their multi-layer design gives them a 3-D effect once you put them together.

Exact prices vary by the size and complexity of the kit, but they start at around 1,000 yen (US$6.55).

Though this wasn’t his first time seeing Paper Theater, P.K. realized he’d never actually bought one, but after seeing how excited the overseas travelers were, he decided it was time to give one a shot. Looking over the selection, which included kits for characters from Pokémon, One Piece, Dragon Ball, Naruto, PreCure, and a whole bunch of Studio Ghibli anime, P.K. eventually settled on a Paper Theater kit of Guido Mista, from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, for 1,290 yen.

To assemble the kit, you’ll need a craft knife and glue/adhesive, and a pair of tweezers will be handy too.

P.K. isn’t such an avid arts and crafts kind of guy, but even still, he figured he’d be able to have the whole thing done in an hour. After all, it’s just cutting the paper layers and gluing them together, right?

But the process turned out to be more involved than he’d expected. Anime fans are, by nature, a group that deeply values visual design, and so Paper Theater kits are very detailed, with a lot of intricate little cuts that need to be made.

After an hour, P.K. wasn’t close to done, but he wasn’t bored either. There’s an enjoyable rhythm to craft projects like this once you get the hang of them, and so he kept on going until he had the whole thing assembled…

…and it was awesome!

From start to finish P.K. spent about three hours on the assembly and he figures he could have spent twice as much if he’d been really exacting about getting every cut and paste involved perfect. Even giving himself a little leeway on precision, though, it still looked great, and if you’re the kind of person who enjoys the production process itself for models or craft projects, Paper Theater provides hours of entertainment even before you set it on your desk or shelf to admire. Plus, with Paper Theater being lightweight and flat before assembly, they’re super easy to pack, making them great souvenirs to bring back for friends and family from your trip to Japan. The instructions come with plenty of easy-to-understand diagrams, so you don’t need to be able to read Japanese to follow them and put the kits together.

With the neighborhood’s focus on games and anime, the Akihabara Yodobashi naturally has an especially big Paper Theater selection, but the kits can be found at the chain’s other branches too, as well as other specialty shops and hobby stores in Japan, as well as on the Ensky online shop here.

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