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In recent years this toy has arisen all over the world, it can not only make people calm down, but also exercise patience.

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A whole new ball game

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Kendama is a Japanese traditional toy, but it does not originate in Japan. Now let's understand the history of jade sword

Almost every child who grew up in Japan will see a sword jade, a wooden Japanese traditional toy consisting of a string of swords and tama (balls).

Ken has three cups and one nail that can be inserted into the hole drilled through the center of the ball. With their knees, kendama's players bounce as they pull up the ball, so they may be caught in one of the cups or on a nail. All in all, it used to be a very simple and straightforward game.

Not anymore.

For nearly a decade, Kendama has become more popular overseas, naturally fit into the freestyle image of skateboarding communities in urban centers in Europe and North America.

Recently, this game has even been re-imported into Japan in an almost unrecognizable form.

“In the past, people didn’t think this is a humble children's toys. I was teased and frustrated by playing kendama in college,” said Tamotsu Kubota, head of Global Kendamars Network, founded in 2012, it aims to promote the global game. “At that moment I realized I wanted to change the image of the game and let others see how cool and magical it really was.”

In 2006, Americans started to see Kendama a little different. One of the earliest advocates was considered Colin Sander, a freelance filmmaker accidentally found a video of Hokkaido skier in a storm.

“I immediately knew that it would be a great interest and a new passion,” Sander told The Japan Times in an email. “I could not help but walk to tell my close friends, I made this epic discovery for them. They all thought it was wild and really out-there.”

Sand shot some of his own video playing kendama and posted on Youtube. Propagation doesn’t require a long time.

Kendama USA was incorporated in 2008, and soon became a leading North American manufacturer Kendama. Other manufacturers have appeared, including the United States Sweets Kendamas and Kendama Co., Krom Kendama in Copenhagen and Sunrise Kendama in Amsterdam. These companies often hire professional kendama players as consultants to help sell their products. For example, Sander worked closely with Kendama USA in this capacity.

“I like that sword jade, you can open ideas, think about new ideas” Sander said. “Whether it be other sports or just life … the detailed nature of kendama moves increases your perception in general. I think a big part of the game’s growth had to do with the fact that it is so analog and we were entering a very digital-heavy era. People responded well to the low-tech nature of the game.”

A toy similar to kendama can be found around the world, but I believe this game was developed from the bilboquet in France. According to the Japan Kendama Association, bilboquet can dates back to the 16th century and even played by King Henry III. Toys entered Nagasaki in the late 18th century, at the time it is the only one excommunication trade port.

Japan Kendama Association Chairman Yoshiki Matsunaga says kendama used to be played at drinking sessions by adults before ultimately being used as an educational toy by the end of the 19th century. Hiroshima’s Hamaji Egusa registered a patent for the contemporary-shaped kendama in 1919, which he called nichigetsu ball (sun moon ball).

Kendama in Japan has been used in a fairly calm environment.

Matsunaga, 62, took part in a vibrant freestyle Kendama contest in Tokyo's Shinjuku district in September called Catch & Flow. Atmosphere is electricity, flourishing music provides a noisy backdrop for fancy moves on the stage.

“I have to admit, it’s tough for us old folks to sit in that noise for three hours,” Matsunaga says with a laugh. “Kendama is a traditional part of Japanese culture, which is why we call it Kendama-do, or the way of kendama. In our game, we ask everyone to calm down, let the players focus.”

Founded in 1975, Japan's Kendama Association has been involved in spreading nearly four decades of culture. The organization has established uniform rules for kendama and has its own ranking system. Toys for official championships and rankings must also be approved by the Japan Kendama Association. Matsunaga said that toys made by foreign manufacturers have not been officially approved, although some are classified as “recommended.”

The association also promoted the use of Jian Yu as infant educational toys, as well as nursing home elderly tools. Members organize classes throughout the country, visit universities and teach undergraduates in social welfare, childcare and other subjects.

For more than 25 years, Matsunaga held Kendama classes on Saturday in Hino, Tokyo. Held in public facilities, about 20 students, from elementary school to retirees, gather mastery of various kendama technologies. Each jade course begins with a bow and begins, and when the students are performing and perfecting their movements, they remain silent.

“Kendama is something that can be enjoyed by everyone, from children to old people, and we really value that inter-generational exchange. This dojo is something that I would really like to continue because there are so few opportunities like this nowadays,” Matsunaga said.

Matsunaga, a kendama player for more than 30 years, the association is also actively promoting Kendama abroad, hold a ranking test in Hawaii and other places.

“Spreading kendama throughout the world is a part of our mission, and so the recent boom in popularity certainly helps us to achieve that,” Matsunaga says. “At the same time, however, such modern competitions operate on a very different level. I think kendama is evolving — it just shows how full of possibility it is.”

These days, kendama also enter the domestic fashion industry.

Nobuaki Komoto, owner of Decade, Tokyo fashion Harajuku skateboarders and BMX driver clothing store. Two years ago, Kendama started selling at home and abroad.

“In many ways, Kendama is like BMX: the way in which you put all the moves together, the feeling of accomplishment you feel when you’re able to finish off a move with a bang or the simple pleasure you experience competing against your friends,” says Komoto, who organized Catch & Flow in September.

Row of colorful kendama sits on display at Decade. Some of these are made by domestic companies, but many of them are actually imported from Europe and the United States.

The basic design of imported toys is the same as that made in Japan and officially approved by Japan Kendama Association. However, Komoto says the foreign brands sometimes use wood such as walnut and mahogany — instead of buna (Japanese beech) for the sword and wild cherry for the ball — while the colors, patterns and designs emblazoned on each toy are more varied.

“The foreigners in the industry respect its Japanese background and their kendama initially started out as a copy of those made here,” Komoto says. “Now, however, they are branching out and making unique kinds of kendama.”

The toys have made their way into the art scene as well. An exhibition titled “Around the World — What the Dama?” features 75 domestic and foreign artists from a variety of backgrounds — illustrators, kimono designers and graffiti writers — who were all given the same kendama and were told to use it as they see fit. The project resulted in a dynamic selection of kendama that produced all sorts of shapes, colors and sizes. The exhibition was held at UltraSuperNew Gallery in Tokyo’s Harajuku district in September and is currently on display at Digmeout Art & Diner in Osaka until Nov. 15. “Traditional kendama culture has come back to Japan in a completely different form,” says Shimpei Kimura, digital producer at UltraSuperNew Gallery. “Players now take on a completely new approach. Some people didn’t know what to make of it, so we asked the question ‘what is kendama?’ and let the artists express themselves.”

Given Kendama's worldwide spread, Kubota of the world's Kenmath Network believes the last chance for Japan to join the party if it wishes to avoid being forgotten.

The greatest thing about kendama is that you can participate regardless of age and gender.

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