Japanese visitor has an unusual toy
When I first spotted Max Ida in Robertson Park, across the road from the office, I thought he was juggling. I was almost at my car, when my curiosity got the better of me and I had to turn around and go find out just what he was up to.
“Hi, I work across the road at Orange City Life and I’m wondering if you’d speak to me about what this is?” I asked Max.
“This is a Kendama, it's a really old Japanese toy,” said Max holding out the small wooden devise.
Looking somewhat like a small mallet, the ends of the Kendama are concave cups, with a spike at the top and a ball on a string with a hole in it allowing it to fit over the spike, or sword as Max tells me it’s called.
“It’s a ball-and-cup kind of game, three cups, a sword and ball with a hole in it so it is like a skill toy, so you juggle the ball between the cups and get it into the spike.”
The Kendama is thought to have originally derived from the French ball-and-cup game Bilboquet, which can be dated to the 16th Century.
“When it came to Japan they added some more cups and it became a popular toy and it is about 100 years old now and a lot of kids still play it, said Max.
Originally from Hawaii, Max now teaches English at a school in Kochi, Japan.
“The school is called Tosajuku and it's twelve hours by bus from Tokyo so we're kind of far out in the country as well,” said Max.
“We’ve just started a new exchange program with Kinross, so I brought out two students in year 10 and 11 who are going to be studying at Kinross for four weeks.”
When I spotted Max, he was waiting to catch the train back to Sydney, which is why he was killing time in Robertson Park.
“It is my Zen. It keeps me off my phone; so right now, waiting for the train, I can find a nice little spot and play some Kendama, hit a couple tricks and kind of Zen out, get in my zone,” said Max.
“And it is kind of a communication tool for me, everyone knows when you see one, the ball goes in the cup and the spike goes into the ball so you can be anywhere in the world and regardless of language show someone this Kendama and they might get hooked on it, it is a little conversation starter.
“It's cool, it has connected me to the entire world. A lot of people play it and I have so many friends all around the world because of this and we all meet up at the World Cup once a year…”
“There’s a World Cup for Kendama?” I had to ask.
“Yeah, this is my sixth year playing in the World Cup, which is held every July in Japan… so it is kind of a new sport coming long and this year they had 460 or so competitors.”
“How does the competition work?”
“You have three minutes to do as many tricks as you can and whoever hits the most tricks in the three minutes is the winner… Everywhere in the world, there are little tournaments you can show up at and if anyone is playing it they’re your friend automatically, so it has kind of opened up my world.
“How did you go in the World Cup this year?
“Well… recently, the younger generation— middle schoolers and high schoolers —are getting insanely good! They just have way more time to practice, so the highest I've ever hit was 58th in the world, this year 120-something. The champion who won this year was 16.”
“But I do lot of translation work for the World Cup, so I’ll be on stage translating between the MCs and that it is kind of my thing now, I try to help the next generation get better and have a place to compete.”
Check out a video of Max demonstrating Kendama on our Facebook page.