The most popular Christmas gift this year won’t have a battery pack or controller.
Kids are crazy about kendamas, an old-school Japanese ball-and-cup toy most often made of wood. And it’s so popular that schools in Hawaii are even banning it.
But how in the world did this thing blow up?
It’s an old-fashioned toy, one that kids in Japan don’t even play with anymore. And I didn’t grow up twirling them around, either. So what happened?
Turns out, the craze isn’t just in Hawaii. Kids from Sacramento to Michigan are mastering the various tricks you can do with the wooden cup and ball.
Here’s how it works: the “ken” in kendama refers to the body of the toy, which is made of wood or plastic. The “ken” houses two cups — one bigger, one smaller — with another cup on the bottom, called the “base.” The ball, or “tams,” is attached to a piece of string. The idea is to swing the ball into one of the cups or land it on the “spike,” which is located at the top of the “ken.”
Oh, it’s not easy. I’ve been playing around with a kendama for about a week now, and all I can do is catch the ball in the three different cups. Forget the spike.
Watch these tricks.
So where did trend come from? Some point to Europe, where kendamas have been popular for years. The toy is similar to France’s bilboquet, which dates back to the 1500s. And in Latin American there’s a version of the toy known as balero.
But the kendama as we see it today hails from Japan near the turn of the 20th century. The Japan Kendama Association was founded in 1975 to establish rules and standardize the size. But its popularity has waned in recent years, at least in Japan, but for some reason, it’s really caught on in other parts of the world.
Now there are kendama clubs, professional teams and YouTube videos galore.
Toys cost anywhere from $15 for a entry-level model to the Kendama USA Pro Model — yes, pro model — made of cherry wood for $27.99. And there are even specialty kendamas that cost more than $150 each. (Here’s a secret: you can get them for about $1 in Japan at the 100-yen stores. Don’t tell anyone.)
I can see the toy’s appeal. I tend to get very distracted trying to master the simplest of tricks. But I’m pretty surprised by its widespread appeal with today’s kids who seem so attached to game consoles and iPads.
On one hand, that’s great they’re interested in old-fashioned wooden toys instead of mind-numbing video games. But on the other, it’s not as exciting as “Madden NFL 25.” So what’s up?
Anyone can explain this kendama trend to me?