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What is a Kendama?

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KendamaA Child’s Game

Kendama is essentially a traditional Japanese childrens’ game consisting of a stick which has two cups and a spike fashioned at on end, with a handle and another cup at the other. There is then a ball, with a hole in it, attached to the stick by a string. Many adults tend to find Kendama as challenging as do the children.

basic Bearing similarities to the classic “cup and ball” game, Kendama shares the same objective, but is far more challenging. Kendama bears strong resemblance to the Hispanic game known as boliche or balero. The principles are the same, catching one object with another, with both being connected by a string. The modern Kendama seems to borrow the skillset from yo-yo, diablo, juggling, and dance.

Kendama Origins and Counterparts

Kendama’s origins are largely disputed. It has oftentimes been described as a variation of the French ball & cup game called bilboquet which can trace its roots to the 16th century. The general consensus dates Kendama to the late 17th or early 18th century.

Japan Adapted Kendama as its Own

In 1777, Nagasaki was the only Japanese port open to foreign trade by way of the silk highway. This is when and where Kendama first arrived in Japan. Legend has it that Kendama started there as an adult drinking game where the player who didn’t meet the objective of the game was forced to drink more. The game gained much of its popularity during the Edo Period which lasted from 1600 to 1868.

Early in the 20th century, Kendama was called a jitsugetsu ball and had just two side cups. Jitsugetsu translates to sun and moon. Many believe the name is due to the ball being representative of the sun, while the cups resemble a crescent moon.

Hamaji Egusa applied for a patent on the cup and ball game in 1919 and was awarded said patent in 1920. The proportions and the size of the game were later altered to more closely resemble what we see today. The birthplace of the modern Kendama is said to be Hatsukaichi City in Hiroshima Perfecture. The current competition design Kendama is said to be descendent from Issei Fujhiwara’s model. His model featured string holes in the cross piece, although very little change has been made from his basic design excepting the ken becoming more rounded to reduce chipping. Fujiwara is also the founder of the Japan Kendama Association. This association establishes the rules of play, the current grading system, as well as organized competitions. The JKA also standardized the Kendama itself to ensure the toy is suitable for competition.

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