Let’s talk about Kendama. The first time I saw one was about 11 yrs ago. My cousin had been living in Japan and came home for a visit. He knew I was into yo-yos, so he thought I would appreciate this popular Japanese skill toy. Which I did appreciate, sort of. I appreciated the thoughtfulness of the gesture more than the actual gift. A ball in cup game was not exactly in the same league as a yo-yo. Fortunately, others in the yo-yo world had more vision than I did. Now Kendama and Yo-Yos seem to have permanent, albeit an unusual association.
Why is it that Kendama have hit the same nerve with many that yo-yos do. So many players are into both. Kendama’s popularity has been growing steady for a lot of years now and the crossover is amazing. It’s never really happened in my life. For awhile there was a Diabolo / Yo-Yo crossover, and to a very small extent a Juggling/ Yo-Yo crossover, but Kendama / Yo-Yo, wow. It’s like a match made in heaven.
It’s worth noting that Kendama has not just been a craze among yo-yo players. The second time I saw a Kendama was about 8 years ago at a Juggling convention. Among the jugglers, there was one guy playing with a Kendama. I recognized it because I had one in the back of my drawer somewhere from when my cousin had given it to me. His were all naturals, and all from Japan. With the holy JKA seal on it. The next year, at the same juggling convention, I must have seen 50 kendamas. Clearly kendama have ingratiated themselves into the juggling community as well as the yo-yo community.
Kendama, however, have not been adopted by Jugglers to the same extent as yo-yoers. Clearly their are some similarities. Both are skill toys, both were originally made of wood (99% of kendamas still are), and both have strings. They also cost roughly the same amount, they are fairly portable, and they require skill to do and provide an endless opportunity for creativity and improvement. But the same can be said of Diabolos, Spin Tops, and Paddle Ball. Why haven’t they caught on like Kendama?
I don’t know the answer to this, but I have a theory. The timing of Kendama’s popularity seemed to correlate with the rise of Social media in the world. Since it had been largely unheard of outside of Japan, it was fresh, ripe for creative people to add their own tricks, styles and designs, and it was all being shared on social media. And Share it we have. Countless videos on Youtube, Instagram and other outlets; dozens of FB pages to discuss, collaborate and argue about Kendama; pictures of new and fresh design ideas; stains, paints, printing, different woods; and lots of individuals seeing this happening all starting companies at approximately the same time. All these factors came together via social media to create a Kendama tsunami.
Being in the skill toy business, and having started one of the first US based Kendama companies, I have watched Kendama grow and grow in popularity, and every year I’ve been expecting to see it nose dive in popularity. Like the Hula Hoop did back in the day. I had an uncle who once said that computers were a fad, like the Hula Hoop, turns out, he was an idiot. Computers are here to stay, and maybe Kendamas, like yo-yos, will ebb and flow in popularity, but perhaps they too are here to stay.