Kendama

Kendama is a traditional Japanese toy made of wood and string. Players must balance the attached ball on one of the kendama's three cups or catch it on the spike. Recently, kendama has evolved into an international urban sport, and more than 3 million people worldwide are said to have taken it up. Today, skilled kendama exponents join us to demonstrate their astounding techniques. We also feature a performance combining kendama with dance and music and see how this Japanese pastime has become a global phenomenon.

Transcript

00:21

Kendama.

00:27

A traditional Japanese toy made of wood and string.

00:34

Recently, Kendama has found a place in street culture, evolving into a crowd-pleasing new sport.

00:46

Over the last ten years, Kendama has developed at a remarkable pace,

00:52

with the sport's leading exponents developing incredible skills.

00:56

Kendama now incorporates music and dance, as part of a growing freestyle culture.

01:02

And it's said that more than three million people around the world have taken up the sport.

01:08

We take a deep dive into how Kendama has grown into a vibrant and creative sporting.

01:21

This game is known as Kendama and it uses a toy made up of a wooden handle,

01:27

with three cups, and a spike and a ball attached by a string.

01:32

I used to play it a lot when I was a child, but it's been quite a while,

01:37

so I'm not sure if I can do it properly.

01:39

You must either catch the ball in one of the cups or on the spike.

01:44

So, let's give it a try!

01:48

Here I go!

01:52

I did it.

01:54

It's a miracle!

01:57

Recently, Kendama is going through something of a transformation.

02:01

Alright, so show us your performance.

02:15

Woah! that's amazing! Thank you so much for joining our show.

02:20

This is Kubota Tamotsu, the organizer of the Kendama World Cup and an influential figure in the sport.

02:31

I didn't know that Kendama had evolved so much over the years.

02:36

More and more people around the world are taking part, and every day new tricks are being invented.

02:45

That's right!

02:47

Kendama is growing ever more popular worldwide.

02:51

Let's find out about the roots of the game.

03:02

1930s' Japan.

03:09

The Nichigetsu ball, the predecessor of the modern Kendama, became prominent around a hundred years ago.

03:21

Kendama enjoyed a huge surge in popularity during the 1970s.

03:26

But with the rise of video games, children began to leave their toys on the shelf.

03:37

Fast forward to the early 2010s.

03:40

Kendama caught the eye of the urban sports community in the US.

03:51

This new incarnation of Kendama was reimported back into Japan

03:56

and the first World Cup was set up by Kubota Tamotsu in 2014.

04:06

The tricks performed in competition are spectacular, creative, and in a different world to traditional skills.

04:18

Many in Japan were both amazed and delighted to see this new take on a beloved Japanese pastime.

04:32

Wow! So Kendama tricks look far more energetic than they used to.

04:36

That's right.

04:38

The conventional way of playing Kendama is like this, just repeating the same movements.

04:45

But now, we incorporate more tricks while the ball is in the air.

04:53

For example, we spin the handle before re-catching the ball.

05:01

And there's the trick I showed you earlier, catching the ball on the down spike.

05:07

You make it look so easy, but it's not, believe me it's not.

05:13

Yeah, it requires quite a lot of practice, but you can also include some juggling moves as well.

05:24

The Kendama World Cup has taken place every year since it first began,

05:30

even during the pandemic, when it was held online.

05:33

The 10th World Cup is scheduled for July 2023.

05:43

The rules for competitive Kendama are simple.

05:46

Each player has three minutes to demonstrate their tricks.

05:56

Competitors can freely select any authorized technique.

06:02

All tricks are graded one through 12 in difficulty.

06:06

Points are awarded for successful execution and in the case of failure,

06:10

players can try again any number of times.

06:15

Points are the square of the trick's level.

06:18

While a Level One trick scores one point, Level 11 and 12 tricks,

06:23

which garner special bonuses, can score up to 194 points.

06:30

Let's take a look at a Level One trick.

06:33

This is the Spike.

06:46

Let's see how Ayako fares.

06:51

The string is long, and it's tough to propel the ball straight up into the air;

06:57

it's easier if you spin it.

06:59

So that's one of the tips.

07:01

Keep your eyes on this.

07:03

Watch the ball and...

07:07

Spin it...

07:08

This is a difficult one... to catch the ball...

07:10

- Hey! Yeah! Great coach! Great advice!
- Nice!

07:17

So, spin the ball...

07:19

... as the hole faces downwards, it's easy to catch.

07:24

Woah!

07:26

Please try this at home!

07:30

That was fun!

07:31

The upcoming Kendama World Cup.

07:37

The official trick list was recently released online.

07:41

There are ten authorized tricks for each level with an overall total of 120 possible moves.

07:53

Let's take a look.

07:57

This is a Level Six trick.

08:03

The player throws the handle, performs a "lightning drop," switches their hold,

08:09

catching the ball on the spike.

08:12

This is a Level Seven trick.

08:17

It involves balancing the handle on the Kendama's string.

08:26

And this is just Level seven!

08:27

How much more difficult will Level 12 tricks get?

08:40

Level 12.

08:43

So, the name of the trick is "Airplane, 4 tap swap inward 4.5 toss in."

08:51

What is that? All right. Let's check it out!

09:01

Did you follow that?

09:02

After catching the ball, he throws the handle upwards, and taps 1,2,3,4 times with the ball.

09:11

That's four times.

09:15

I, 2, 3, 4.

09:20

Then he swaps to the handle, throws it with a reverse spin,

09:24

lets it rotate four and a half times, and spikes the ball.

09:28

It's a god-level trick.

09:31

Amazing; OK, so let's check another trick.

09:36

And the name of the trick is "Kenflip-flip-flip inward 2.5 kenflip tap swap kenflip-flip-flip 1.5 toss in."

09:51

Oh, gosh.

09:54

That was something!

09:57

The "ken-flip, flip, flip," means that you flip the handle three times

10:02

for one movement of the ball, one, two, three times, like that.

10:09

It's really difficult.

10:12

But that's not all.

10:14

After the third flip, you also include the reverse spin and tapping moves that we just saw.

10:21

Then you swap...

10:26

and repeat the one, two, three with the handle.

10:36

How many times did he give it a try to succeed?

10:41

Well, this player is a former World Champion, so it probably only took him four or five attempts.

10:49

He'd pick it up easily.

10:53

Okay, so the next trick: "3 turn stuntplane fasthand triple gooncircle juggle triple kenflip stuntplane fasthand."

11:04

Whatever that is!

11:10

That was a goon circle.

11:18

The fasthand is when you spike the ball and then switch your grip to the handle.

11:24

Then you spin the whole Kendama three times and catch it.

11:28

It really hurts, you know.

11:31

You've gotta suck up the pain and move onto the next move,

11:34

and correctly spin the handle three times; it's crazy difficult.

11:41

"Where's he looking?"

11:44

At the end, you're looking at the spinning handle.

11:51

As it's spinning, you're concentrating on it.

11:55

But if you're holding the ball half-heartedly, you can't do the next move.

12:00

So, while keeping an eye on the handle, you need to feel the ball with your fingers to figure out where the hole is,

12:06

so that you can spike the ball - usually the handle will fall back out,

12:12

so you've gotta be fast.

12:16

How is that possible, tell me?

12:19

I know! If you miscalculate by even a fraction of a second, it just won't work.

12:27

- So, this is Level 12, right?
- Level 12

12:31

In many sports that started on the street, like skateboarding and BMX,

12:36

self-expression is just as important as winning.

12:40

Kendama is no exception to the rule.

12:43

Let's take a further look at what makes this sport so special.

12:56

Some Kendama players take a more entertainment-based approach to the sport.

13:02

Let's meet Easy.

13:11

Many people think of Kendama as something that you do by yourself,

13:16

and up until now, there hasn't really been a culture of combining it with music and dance

13:24

to create a dynamic and active stage performance.

13:32

Easy is an accomplished Kendama performer.

13:37

He's appeared at events and on television in 18 countries around the world,

13:42

including the 2015 World Expo in Milan introducing the appeal of Kendama to a global audience.

13:55

In 2021, Easy launched a new project to further develop performances that combine Kendama with dance.

14:05

He's formed a group called Zero-one Heads.

14:14

This is Yua.

14:22

And this is Yasu.

14:24

At 13, he's the youngest member of the group.

14:28

Yasu is actually one of the world's leading players,

14:31

and with a first win at the age of eleven is the youngest competitor ever to win the World Cup.

14:39

Rounding up the team, is Josh from the US.

14:44

I don't quite know how to describe it,

14:47

but these guys are always finding new ways of expressing themselves through Kendama.

14:53

Wow, I would love to see them.

15:29

This style of performance is unique to the group.

15:50

I'm not just limiting this group to the four of us.

15:54

I'm hoping to involve between 10 and 20 more performers from around the world,

16:00

taking our Kendama performances to dance competitions,

16:03

so we can share Kendama with different cultures.

16:07

That's my vision going forward.

16:45

It's great how the team synchronizes their movements to the music.

17:14

They're having fun.

17:15

It's really enjoyable to watch.

17:17

And then the Kendama, really matches the dance and the vibes.

17:37

Now let's meet someone who's traveling the world with his Kendama in hand.

17:44

This is Fujita Sohma.

17:50

Sohma is an established player who has made an impression at international tournaments.

18:03

I made a sudden decision to travel overseas and thought that it'd be cool to bring my Kendama with me.

18:14

In the spring of 2023, Sohma made an impromptu journey around Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.

18:28

As he does not speak any of the languages of the countries he visited,

18:32

he used his Kendama to communicate instead.

18:41

The best reactions I got were in Sri Lanka.

18:45

I'd put the Kendama around my neck or attach it to my bag and people would be like "Wow, what is this?"

18:53

Everybody loved it.

18:55

I even found a hotel that let me stay for about a third of the usual price because they loved it so much.

19:05

Sohma's upcoming plans include taking part in an international competition in the Netherlands.

19:12

After which, he'll travel throughout Europe from June to July.

19:17

But he does have some concerns.

19:25

Europe is expensive, so it might be a little more challenging.

19:31

But I'm gonna give it a go.

19:36

A month after we interviewed Sohma, he placed second in the freestyle competition at the European Kendama Cup.

19:45

The winner was Yasu, a member of the Zero-one HEADS.

19:51

Sohma's post-competition trip seems to be going well too.

20:11

So how many countries around the world play Kendama these days?

20:14

It's hard to say, but I think there are players in around one hundred countries.

20:21

There are at least 35 nations that send players to the World Cup.

20:28

"Why is Kendama so popular?"

20:32

Why? Well, one reason is the feeling of elation you get when you land a trick.

20:39

I mean you felt happy when you caught the ball on the spike, or on the cups, right?

20:44

That's the same as executing a Level 12 trick on stage.

20:49

Exactly the same!

20:52

I think that's why both beginners and experts have something in common

20:58

because they all share that sense of elation.

21:01

And it's that feeling of community that's spreading around the world.

21:07

As well as organizing the Kendama World Cup, Kubota also holds events to help popularize the sport.

21:17

As only a handful of players can perform the most difficult tricks,

21:21

Kubota is working to ensure that Kendama can be enjoyed at all levels.

21:29

"I enjoyed playing Kendama with everyone."

21:32

"I met lots of new people doing Kendama
and had a fun time."

21:42

This 21st century incarnation of Kendama ensures that everyone and anyone can enjoy the sport in their own individual way.

21:59

Many people love the intensity of high-level competition, like the Olympics.

22:04

Kendama, though, shows us a different type of sporting battle,

22:08

one that's all the more appealing in its warmth and refreshing charm.

22:12

This traditional game has evolved into an international sport;

22:17

and that in itself is really quite remarkable!

22:21

It's now time to wrap up with this week's Grand Sumo Adventure.

22:25

See you next time on J-Arena.

22:36

The dohyo, or ring, is indispensable for sumo.

22:41

It's the battleground where rikishi put themselves on the line and fight.

22:47

Today, we take a closer look at how the dohyo is constructed.

22:55

Hi! Today I'm at Miyagino stable

22:58

because I heard that a new sumo ring or dohyo will be constructed today right here.

23:05

First, some basics.

23:08

Currently, there are about 600 rikishi in professional sumo.

23:12

Each one belongs to a sumo stable.

23:15

There are 44 stables in all.

23:21

Each stable has its own dohyo for training.

23:25

The ring's surface, as well as the rice bales around it,

23:29

gradually become rough, as large rikishi practice on it every day.

23:34

Damage to the dohyo can cause injuries.

23:39

So, the dohyo is renewed before each tournament.

23:47

The entire members of the stable take part in the construction of the dohyo

23:52

which is called dohyo-tsuki.

23:55

The work starts with digging up the old clay-like dirt.

23:59

The dirt is then ground into small pieces to make it fine and soft again.

24:05

The old tawara, or rice bales, are removed.

24:12

This process is necessary before moving on to the next step -

24:16

leveling and smoothing out the surface.

24:22

The next step is moistening and hardening the dirt.

24:30

The tool used for this task is called a "tako," or "octopus," as it resembles the many-armed creature.

24:49

I helped with the work.

24:59

Yoisho! Yoisho! Yoisho! Yoisho...

25:09

But my arms are already tired and worked up.

25:12

Playing an important role in dohyo construction, are yobidashi,

25:17

who serve as ring announcers during grand tournaments.

25:24

They further level the ground that was flattened and stiffened by rikishi earlier.

25:39

The entire surface must be very hard, to prevent rikishi from getting injured.

25:48

Even a small soft part poses a high risk of injury.

25:52

Rikishi could trip on it and sprain their toes.

25:57

Everything is done by manual labor to make sure the dohyo is completely flat and smooth.

26:05

After the surface is made smooth, yobidashi use a rope to draw a circle with a diameter of 4.55 meters.

26:17

They then dig a ditch along the circle.

26:30

Then, it's time to use the dohyo-dawara, or rice straw bales.

26:38

Yobidashi fill the bales with dirt and small pebbles.

26:42

They're then tied with straw ropes.

26:48

They neatly lay the rice bales one by one into the ditch, leaving no gaps.

26:59

Then, further hardening is done by all the stable members to completely solidify the dohyo.

27:06

A brand-new dohyo with an unblemished smooth surface is completed after three days of hard work!

27:16

The wrestlers will be training hard on this dohyo so they can perform well in the upcoming tournament,

27:23

so let's hope their hard work pays off.