Aug 01, 2018 Art Hatsukaichi

The Kendama World Cup 2018

#Event ,#Event2018 ,#Kids ,#Performing Arts ,#Sports Competition ,#Summer


For two days in late July, people from across Japan and the world converged on Hatsukaichi City in Hiroshima for this year’s Kendama World Cup.

“Kendama is great fun to play,” says Tamotsu Kubota, 36, head of the Global Kendama Network GLOKEN that started the annual world cup in 2014. “I feel it’s important to increase the amount of fun in the world.”

But what is kendama? Essentially, it is a Japanese version of the cup and ball game. The kendama comes with a handle or ‘sword’ (ken) made up of three cups and a pointed tip connected by a length of string to a ball (dama). For generations the concept of the game has been simple – try to juggle the ball from one cup to another and return it to the tip.

Kendama makers sold a wide range of colorful kendamas at the event.

Thought to be derived from the traditional French game of ‘Biboquet’, the original Japanese kendama was invented in the early 20th century in Hiroshima and mass-produced by wooden toy craftsmen in Hatsukaichi.

Kendama players putting in some last-minute practice.

Kendama players putting in some last-minute practice.

Since its invention, the shape of the wooden kendama has mostly remained the same, but the way people play the kendama has changed beyond measure. A surge in popularity across the US ten years ago took the game to a new level. Kendama players began posting new tricks on YouTube, encouraging others to create and post even more audacious ones. Today, what was once a simple game Japanese children played with their grandparents has become a global sport with sponsored players, a vibrant community of enthusiasts and an ever-evolving library of tricks.

“I started kendama six and a half years ago in middle school,” says 18-year-old Nick Gallagher, the winner of this year’s Kendama World Cup and one of the many of high-ranking kendama players to come out of the US. “It was a school fad and I just got hooked. Back then it was growing all over the US and one kid brought it into my school. Everyone I knew quit but I kept playing because I thought it was fun.”

This year’s champion Nick Gallager (center) with compatriots George Marshall (left) and Lukas Funk (right).

-This year’s champion Nick Gallager (center) with compatriots George Marshall (left) and Lukas Funk (right).

In competition kendama, the tricks are performed at breakneck speed on stage within set a time limit. At the world cup, a live DJ and on-the-spot commentary by two MCs accompanied the action. The festival atmosphere was similar to a skateboarding or BMX event.

“Kendama has grown so much in these last four years,” says Lukas Funk, 20, who started kendama five years ago and was runner-up in the 2015 and 2016 competitions. “The progression from basic tricks to what we have now is huge. Today people are doing tricks on stage that no one would have thought of doing four years ago.”

-Lukas Funk on stage at the Kendama World Cup.

Although US players have dominated kendama competitions in recent years, the number of players from Japan is growing. One Japanese player leading the charge is 16-year-old So Kanada, winner of the 2017 World Cup and runner-up in this year’s competition.

So Kanada – the 2017 winner and this year’s runner-up.

-So Kanada – the 2017 winner and this year’s runner-up.

“I only started three years ago after watching celebrities try kendama on TV. After I managed one trick I was hooked and I wanted to try the next trick,” explains Kanada. “Today, kendama is bigger abroad than it is in Japan. I want to make it popular again in Japan.”

Zack Gallagher practicing before his turn on stage.

Through the efforts of Kubota and his team at GLOKEN, kendama is reaching farther afield than just the US and Japan. “Every month someone from the organization is flying abroad to help with a kendama event or demonstration,” says Kubota. “It’s reciprocal. Because we go over there, they also come to us when we hold an event like this.”

-Zack Gallagher practicing before his turn on stage.

This year’s world cup reflected the global growth of kendama, with competitors representing 18 different countries. One of those who made the long journey to Japan was Flavio Macarringue, 33, from Mozambique.

Kendama player Flavio Macarringue from Mozambique.

-Kendama player Flavio Macarringue from Mozambique.

“When I first saw kendama I was surprised. It was difficult to learn but I tried harder and harder,” says Macarringue. “I try to teach young children when I have time because it’s fun and good for the mind. It improves your concentration.”

The atmosphere inside the venue and the camaraderie between the players made it more of a festival than a rigid tournament. Players and fans cheered players on stage regardless of nationality. The youngest competitor was just nine years old. It was clear that age, gender, nationality, and physical attributes played no role in kendama. Everyone was free to enjoy the game – all you needed was a wooden kendama to access this global network of likeminded people.

There was a festival atmosphere inside the venue with live DJ music accompanying the action.

-There was a festival atmosphere inside the venue with live DJ music accompanying the action.

“The kendama community is the biggest draw in my opinion and the thing that keeps me coming back,” explains Lukas Funk. “That’s 100% my favorite part. To be able to show up in a place like Japan and have a bunch of people you know around you, who are passionate about the same thing you are. There’s nothing like it. It’s incredible.”
Watching the Kendama World Cup, it was astonishing to think how this simple traditional Japanese toy brought so many people together from all over the world.

Learn More about KendamaWorld Cup:
Amazing World of Kendama. Kendama Worldcup in Hiroshima!