All about Kendama and the Growing Craze

Before all the e-gaming was born into this world, the kids used to hone their hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes with the use of actual games and some toys like the yo-yo. Like a lot of things in the world, these toys eventually evolved into more complex toys. A perfect example of such a toys kendama, which is a Japanese toy that has been growing in popularity in the recent years.

The History of Kendama in Japan and the Evolution of the Toy and the Game

There are disputes about the origins of Kendama because of the earlier existence of a French ball-and-cup game called “Bilboquet” that is very similar to how kendama is played and which showed in historical records in the 16th century. Despite these disputes, it is more or less accepted that the kendama arrived in Japan from the west during the Edo period, which was a period that lasted from the year of 1600 until the year of 1868.

By Isakkk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

It might have looked like a toy that only young in age play with because of its appearance but contrary to this, the kendama was actually used as a toy for drinking games. The rules of their drinking game were simple and were quite similar to a game of “HORSE”. To enlighten the people who do not know of the game of “HORSE”, it is a game of mimicry that is played in different sports. The starting player makes a move that leads to a made shot or goal and the competitors are to copy it exactly. If they fail to do so, they will be given the letter “H”. Every time they fail to mimic the move, they will be given a letter until the word “HORSE” is spelled out. First one to spell “HORSE” losses. In relation to the drinking game where the kendama is used, every time a player fails to copy a move made with the kendama, they will be forced to take a shot or something to that extent.

The material used to make a kendama has always been wood but the structure and design of the kendama changed throughout the years because it was initially just a stick and a ball and then when the 20th century came, makers added two side cups. From there, it developed even more because the size and proportions of the kendama were later altered to a standard of 18 cm in length. It was Issei Fujiwara who somewhat succeeded in making the best version of the kendama because his model is the one used for current competitions which are the design that involves string holes in the crosspiece. There were minor changes made to make the toy more sustainable and an example of this is how they made the ken or the crosspiece a bit more round to reduce wood chipping between the ken and the tama, or the ball. Aside from this and the painting designs of certain kendamas, it is basically still the design of Fujiwara.

This was not the only thing that Issei Fujiwara did for the kendama. He was also the one who established the Japan Kendama Association or the JKA. This association that he founded is the one that established the rules for play as well as the point system used in competition nowadays. The JKA is also responsible for the standardization of the kendama which was a great move to make considering the growing supporters of the kendama and the kendama competitions.

Everything You Should Know About the Kendama Japan Tours and World Cup 

By Vivian Blakely ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The kendama has certainly grown immensely and this can be seen from how it started off being just a source of entertainment during drinking sessions and how it has now turned into a basis for some Japanese employers to determine if an employee is persistent, determined, and patient. The reasoning behind this is that if a person has a high ranking with the kendama, it hints that he or she already has persistence, determination, and patience because this is needed to master tricks with the kendama.

The rankings are attained when a person learns how to do a certain list of moves. The moves they can do determine which level they are at, much like how martial artists rank their students. For example, to attain a 10—kyu rating, which is the lowest beginning grade, a person must be able to simply catch the ball in the largest cup. The JKA published a book that enlists 101 different tricks but there are thousands of trick variations that give this toy more dimensions for competition.

There are numerous types of competition for the kendama. There are competitions known as kendama shokugekis which are competitions that require their participants to perform certain moves in succession or for as long as they can. There are also head to head battles that happen and these types of competitions are vital because this is where the youth of these competitions train and gain experience.

Despite the long existence of the high competition in kendama, it wasn’t until the decade of the 2000’s that international kendama associations were founded to usher in international competitions. In 2006, Kendama USA was founded along with the British Kendama Association. In 2010, Sweets Kendamas was founded and soon its promotion spread until Europe and North America.

The JKA has held kendama competitions since the year of 1979 but it was the British Kendama Association that hosted the first kendama contest outside of Japan in the year of 2008. This set things into motion as this event was followed up by the British Kendama Open and European Kendama Open every year since it started in 2008. These contests made use of a variation of competitions like trick ladders, freestyle battles, speed battles, and the head-to-head competitions.

With the establishment of several international kendama associations all over the world, it was only a matter of time before an official international kendama contest was held. This happened in the year of 2014 when the Global Kendama Network held the very first Kendama World Cup which happened in Katsukaichi, Japan. It made use of a new format wherein the players have to choose 5 tricks from a list of 100 moves and they are to attempt these tricks on a time limit. These tricks are categorized into 10 levels which correspond to the points you get from performing it. For example, doing a level 1 move would give you 1 points while doing a level 7 move would give you 7 points.

Since it started in 2014, the Kendama World Cup hasn’t missed a year. In 2014, it was Bonz Atron from the American kendama group known as Kendama USA. At that time though, Kendama USA was still known as Kendama Co. In the years of 2015 and 2016, the American players successfully brought home first place again as Wyatt Bray and Bryson Lee won it all, respectively. There was also a freestyle competition organized by the Gloken in the year of 2016 and, again, a player named Nick Gallagher from the USA took home the price. Japan would get their turn under the limelight in the 2017 Gloken Kendama World Cup because So Kanada, who was Japan’s bet in that World Cup, won it all.

There are much more kendama contests that happen aside from the Gloken World Cup. Majority of the other events like Catch and Flow started in the year of 2014 as well. All the other events are a great way to gain experience and to have fun because they all work under different rules. For example, the Gloken is won by points while the Catch and Flow Freestyle World Championship is won by continuously beating opponents in a one-on-one type of battle.

The Stores and Shops Where You Can Buy the Best Kendama Brands for Good Prices

By Gloria Populorum (Gloria Populorum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now that you know the popularity of this game and competition is growing worldwide, you might be interested in getting into it yourself. If that is the case, you will want a kendama that not only introduces you to the game but also showcases the style of your play through the design on it. In Japan, there is a wide range of these designs so if you are lucky enough to go there or be there when you plan to buy your kendama, take the opportunity and buy it there.

A number of great and reliable kendama distributors can be found scattered around Japan. If you are in Hiroshima, look for the store called “Yume”. This kendama store is supported by a great kendama community so you are sure that the stuff they sell is great quality. If you already follow the kendama competitions and who the great kendama players are, you might even meet some of them when you go there. To name some of these players, they are Soma, Rintaro, and Nobu.

If you are in Tokyo, specifically in Harajuku, you have got to check out the store called “Decade”. It might be useful to know that they also sell clothes and biking stuff as well because some people overlook the kendamas being sold here due to the other items they offer. If you are in Osaka, look for the store called “3rd place”. The store has an Instagram account so you can check that out to see if they have anything you want before actually going there.

To find other shops that sell the kendamas, it would be advisable to ask the players and the kendama community if you can. All you have to remember when you go to these stores is that, as much as possible, you want an Ozora Kendama. This particular kendama is the official and approved brand of kendama that can be used in all competitions in Japan and anywhere else in the world. Once you have confirmed that detail about the item, all you things to worry about is if you like the way it looks and how fast you can learn and master the moves necessary to get better at your kendama gaming.