2015-03-19 / Schools

What the heck is ‘kendama’? Ask your middle-schooler

Japanese game invades local schools
By Art Van Kraft


IT’S HOT—Kendamas, like the ones above made by Georgia-based Kendama USA, have become popular in schoolyards in the area. The traditional Japanese toy requires hand-eye coordination to land a ball, attached to the handle by a string, within one of three cups or on a spike atop the handle. IT’S HOT—Kendamas, like the ones above made by Georgia-based Kendama USA, have become popular in schoolyards in the area. The traditional Japanese toy requires hand-eye coordination to land a ball, attached to the handle by a string, within one of three cups or on a spike atop the handle. A new toy fad is sweeping through area schools and has created what is called the “kendama craze.”

A kendama is a traditional Japanese toy and looks like an oldfashioned ball-and-cup game. It’s a wooden ball and handle attached by a string; the toy fits easily into a back pocket.

The handle has a spike at its top. Within the handle are two parallel bowls—one bigger than the other—and another cup at the bottom of the handle. Kendama players swing the ball and try to land it into one of the cups or on to the spike. The ball has a small hole in it to fit the spike.

“It’s really, really popular among the sixth-grade kids,” said Jason Branham, principal of Los Cerritos Middle School in Thousand Oaks. “I think about a third of the boys have one.”

Branham said he first noticed the kendama craze in October when he saw groups of children gathered in circles playing kendama before class.

Branham said he was somewhat apprehensive when he first saw kids swing wooden balls on a stick, but soon decided the game was safe.

“We realized they are socializing and sharing them with one another and practicing different tricks,” Branham said.

Lauren Mareno, 11, a student at Los Cerritos who has had a kendama for two months, said she likes the toy because it’s not a video game and improves her eye-hand coordination.

“Video games actually rot your brain and this uses coordination,” Lauren said. “It keeps me very active. I get this feeling like I can do this.”

The kendama trend is slowly catching on at elementary and middle school campuses across the county.

Tyler Reeser, assistant principal of Chaparral Middle School in Moorpark, said he hasn’t seen the game played by students at his school. Monte Vista Middle School officials said they too have yet to see the game on the Camarillo campus.

The kendama craze may have started in Ventura elementary schools. The trend could likely be traced to a small toy store in the beachside city that has been selling kendamas for nearly a year.

Michelle Corette and her husband, Nick, opened the Crabby Baby toy store on Seaward Avenue in Ventura about a year ago. She said kendamas were one of their first products and the toys slowly started to catch on.

“When the kendama craze hit this winter, we started hosting tournaments out on the beach,” Corette said. “We wanted a store where the kids could hang out and practice.”

William Growder-Stark was in the store with his daughter Lucy, a fifth-grader at Lincoln Elementary School in Ventura. Growder-Stark is a volunteer soccer coach and said many of the elementary school soccer players he coaches bring the toy to practices.

“We will be going to a soccer match this weekend in Bakersfield and all the kids will have them,” Growder-Stark said. “I tried it, and it’s harder than it looks.”

Like martial arts, kendama players can achieve various rankings based on their skill. The lowest ranking, or “big cup,” requires the player get the ball into the big cup at least once in 10 tries.

Other skills are reserved for the “ninjas” of kendama and require maneuvers called “spike the lighthouse” and “the earth spin.”

According to the Japan Kendama Association, the kendama debuted in Japan near the turn of the 20th century. In 1975, the association established rules and standardized the size of the devices.

More and more stores—especially sports stores—have begun selling kendamas.

Entry-level kendamas are in the $35 range and come in many colors and styles. A mammoth-size kendama from Japan requires two hands to play and costs $250.

“We see more parents that are willing to buy a traditional toy,” Corette said. “Right now everybody wants a kendama. They probably said that about the Rubik’s Cube.”

Such as hacky sacks, yo-yos, the Slinky and other schoolyard fads, it’s anyone’s guess how long the kendama will stay in fashion.

Yet as long as the simple toy has youngsters everywhere trying to land the ball into a cup or atop the spike, parents will be glad to pull off the biggest trick there is—keeping kids off electronics, even if it is for a little while.

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