Masters Of 'kendama' Cup - And - Ball Game To Throw Down At 1st World Cup

Masters of 'kendama' cup-and-ball game to throw down at 1st world cupWhile the eyes of soccer fans remain riveted on the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, another world cup involving a traditional wooden hand-held game is drawing participants from around the globe to this western city.

About 100 master players will gather here for the Kendama World Cup Hatsukaichi 2014 on July 12-13 with nearly half of them coming from overseas, including the United States and Denmark. Hatsukaichi lays claim to the birthplace of the kendama, a toy featuring a main body that comes with cups, a spike and a ball connected to the body by a string.

A push by a group of amateurs to establish Hatsukaichi as the “holy ground” of the kendama, and a broader passion in the local community to promote kendama culture, combined to organize the first event of its kind.

Members of the Global Kendamas Network (Gloken), a group of kendama amateurs from across Japan, showcased their skills in a shopping district here in late June to celebrate the opening of the Kendama Shop & Salon Yume, an outlet dedicated to the toy.

One player began by hooking the string around a finger, then whirled the kendama around in a big circle, seized the ball as the toy was gaining speed, and finally had its main body land softly on top of the ball.

Hiroyuki Sunahara, the 61-year-old owner of the shop, has spent a good part of his life instructing children in the art of the kendama.

“I have been able to achieve this only now because of a rising interest in the kendama,” the former elementary school teacher said of his longtime passion for shop ownership.

The cup-and-ball game is an “in” thing in the United States and Europe, where scores of ingenious and acrobatic tricks have been invented, and players performing advanced serial tricks while they dance to music are admired for being “cool.”

“The kendama is popular among youths overseas in their 20s and 30s, who see it as a sport that tests your concentration,” said Tamotsu Kubota, the 32-year-old Gloken leader who lives in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.

Kubota came up with the idea for the kendama World Cup in hopes of showing Japanese audiences how tricks have evolved overseas and spreading new ways to enjoy the sport. The first world champion will be awarded 300,000 yen ($2,940) in prize money.