Western fad revives interest in Japanese cup-and-ball game

December 30, 2013

By KOTARO NAKAJIMA/ Staff Writer

A traditional Japanese wooden hand-held game has become cool in Tokyo’s trendy Harajuku district after the popularity in Western countries spread through videos of the players posted on YouTube.

In one basic form of “kendama,” players hold the wooden handle, to which a wooden ball is tied with a string, and try to swing the ball onto a cup on the handle. In another, players hold the ball, swing the handle and attempt to insert its tip into the ball’s hole.

The game began attracting fans in the United States about four years ago, says Nobuaki Komoto, owner of Decade, a shop for skateboarders and bicycle racers in Harajuku.

The 35-year-old said snowboarders played it indoors during a snowstorm, captured their sophisticated maneuvers on videos and uploaded them on YouTube.

In Harajuku, young people began playing kendama about a year ago, recognizing it as cool and stylish.

“The analog game has spread through digital means,” Komoto said. “At events, players compete on how many times their videos are viewed on the Internet.”

Jun Hananoi, 28, who has a skill certification of 5-dan from the Japan Kendama Association, said it is fun for several people to play together in a circle.

Foreign manufacturers have designed kendama sets in camouflage patterns or those that offer a stronger grip to perform high-level techniques.

Imported products sell for between 3,000 and 6,000 yen ($29 and $57), compared with about 1,500 yen for domestic models.

By KOTARO NAKAJIMA/ Staff Writer
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Nobuaki Komoto, third from left, and others play “kendama” at Decade, a shop in Tokyo’s Harajuku district. (Satoru Sekiguchi)

Nobuaki Komoto, third from left, and others play “kendama” at Decade, a shop in Tokyo’s Harajuku district. (Satoru Sekiguchi)

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  • Nobuaki Komoto, third from left, and others play “kendama” at Decade, a shop in Tokyo’s Harajuku district. (Satoru Sekiguchi)

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