Kids Web Japan

Cardboard Modeling to Feed the Imagination

Cardboard art: Jeep 1
(Photo courtesy of ©Monami Ohno.)

Cardboard is a strong, recyclable material that is easy to work with, so it's no surprise that there are many people in Japan who love using it to make models. Let's learn more about cardboard modeling in Japan!

Cardboard Crafts Made by Children in Japan

Japanese kids love making models. Making them out of cardboard is nothing new—it's a light but strong material, so people have been using it for crafts of all different shapes and sizes for a long time—but it's a hobby that has grown especially popular recently. One reason for this is people ordering items online more often, which means there is more cardboard packaging left over for people to use. People are also becoming more aware of the importance of reusing waste materials like cardboard in order to protect the environment.

Kids have lots of opportunities to craft and play with cardboard, whether it's at home or at school or kindergarten, but it's during the summer vacation that they really take it to the next level.
Japanese elementary school children are given assignments to work on during summer vacation, including an "independent project." As the name suggests, it's a project where the students can independently choose the topic, so lots of kids decide to make cardboard crafts. Some kids spend hours and hours over the long summer break building enormous models, while others create games to entertain themselves, and then when the vacation ends, they each bring their own unique pieces back to school with them.

These might be designed from ideas they came up with themselves, or ideas from a book or a kit on cardboard modeling.

One item often made as an independent project is a cardboard maze, where a marble can be moved around the maze by tilting the game board.

A maze game made from cardboard is a classic independent project.

A huge variety of modeling kits can be bought in stores. Kits for making cardboard vending machines have been popular lately.

It's not just the machine—you can even choose the colors of the cans! (Photo courtesy of hacomo Co., Ltd.)

These feature a mechanism that lets you load the machine with cardboard cans and then press a button to release one, just like a real vending machine. On top of how fun it is to operate, the secret to its popularity is the joy and satisfaction you can get from being able to build a vending machine just like the ones you see in real life every day.

These can be filled with capsules up to 7 cm in diameter. This is a colored version. (Photo courtesy of hacomo Co., Ltd.)

Another popular model is a capsule toy machine. Capsule toy machines are very popular with kids and are often seen at stores—you turn a lever to release a capsule containing a figurine or keychain of a popular character. It's no surprise then that kids love to recreate them out of cardboard.

There are even kits that allow you to make a moveable cardboard robotic arm. It's a more complicated design—the lever on the right controls the hand for grabbing objects, and the lever on the left controls the movement of the arm.

The building process allows kids to understand how each part works. This is a colored version. (Photo courtesy of hacomo Co., Ltd.)

These types of cardboard modeling kits are thought to be educational as they allow kids to learn how each part of the machine works, how it's structured, and so on.

Adults Also Love Using Cardboard as an Art Material

It's not just kids that love cardboard modeling, there are also adults who are fascinated by cardboard as a material, and use it to create works of art.

There is a Japanese artist who has been making cardboard models since he was three years old, and today he constructs elaborate replicas of buildings that you wouldn't believe are made out of just cardboard. He works in an office by day, but still spends his free time making cardboard models.

A 40-cm-high replica of the Horyuji five-story pagoda made using just cardboard and glue. (Photo courtesy of Upaza Toryo.)

There are even pro cardboard modeling artists capable of elaborately recreating a huge variety of objects, such as vehicles, sneakers, and even anime characters, all out of cardboard.

A cardboard reproduction of the shoes made famous by American basketball icon Michael Jordan. They can actually be worn! (Photo courtesy of ©Monami Ohno.)

The grooves on the tires and the bolts on the side of the vehicle are incredibly detailed. Opening the hood reveals that even the engine compartment is precisely modeled. (Photo courtesy of ©Monami Ohno.)

Making a model of a car involves cutting out lots of separate parts such as bolts and tire grooves, and assembling them like you would with a plastic model.

A 37.5-cm-tall cardboard recreation of the moving castle from the 2004 Studio Ghibli animated movie Howl's Moving Castle.
(Photo courtesy of ©Monami Ohno.)

Cardboard Can Help with Natural Disasters

Cardboard is a strong, recyclable material that can be assembled without the use of screws and nails. On top of that, some things can be built more cheaply using cardboard.

These qualities of cardboard have led to the development of simple beds intended to be used at evacuation shelters in the event of a natural disaster. It comes as the result of many years of hard work by an architect trying to improve evacuation shelters around the world.

The cardboard bed proposed by architect Ban Shigeru is the same size as a normal single bed.
(Photo courtesy of Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd.)

No scissors, cutters, glue, or tape are required to assemble the bed, so you could say it's also a type of cardboard kit. This kit is a very Japanese idea, inspired by the number of natural disasters that affect Japan, as well as how Japanese culture values both cleanliness and manufacturing.

The outer box of the cardboard bed can be reassembled into four small boxes, perfect for storing things under the bed.
(Image courtesy of Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd.)

What Can We Learn from Cardboard Modeling?

From toys with moving parts to intricate and elaborate works of art, and even furniture to help people during disasters—when it's used in the right way, cardboard is a versatile material that can be useful in all sorts of situations. That versatility gives us endless opportunities to feed our creativity and imagination.