The “kendama kraze” is all the rage


Kalani “DJ Packo” Pokipala demonstrates tricks while playing with the popular kendama toy.

Although some ridiculous trends exist these days (remember planking?), kendamas have to be the best one yet.

Now what is a kendama, you ask?

The kendama, also known as a cup-and-ball game, is a traditional Japanese toy that originated in 1777. The kendama’s design is two cups of different sizes that are vertically placed onto a wooden spike, which is tied to a string. The string attaches the spike to a colored ball. Whoever has the kendama must successfully place the ball on top of one of the cups or on the wooden spike.

It’s recently become a popular trend with the youth in Hawaii because it’s addicting, fun, and builds hand-eye coordination.

By the way, hand-eye coordination doesn’t mean trying to send a text message while you’re half-asleep.

For once, kids aren’t bonded to their electronic devices, and the kendama helps them focus on their hand-eye coordination by figuring out how to place the ball onto one of the cups or on the spike without breaking the toy.

So what makes the popular toy so darn appealing?

No, it’s not the structure, nor it is the colorful ball attached to the wooden stick. It’s the variety of kendama tricks that popularized the toy in the first place.

According to representatives from KendamaUSA, the nation’s largest kendama seller, they saw their friends doing all kinds of tricks with the popular toy in Tokyo and decided to pick some kendamas up for themselves.

The rest is history.

Today, the kendama is still widely recognized in all parts of the world, such as the United States and Europe. People bond over their love for the popular toy by starting kendama-based groups. Kendama competitions are held around the world, and people can purchase kendamas for as much as $20. Recently, a kendama competition was held at the Diverse Arts Center in Kakaako, featuring 22-year-old kendama aficionado Nui Wong, who is a Kauai native and was one of the first in Hawaii to discover the kendama.

But some people may not be charmed by its popularity, claiming that an old favorite is only acknowledged now.

“Oh, my cousin Kaika gets really irritated about those,” said Brandee Lima, a junior at Chaminade. “He’s like, ‘Well, I had those when I was a kid. Why are they so popular now?’”

Hey, it’s way better than kids knowing when the newest iPhone model is coming out.

Earlier this year, Chordinauts, a local hip-hop band, decided to branch out as a kendama brand. Now the band is one of the largest sellers of kendamas in Hawaii and sells hundreds of the Japanese toy at the About the Goods store in Aiea.

Chordinauts’ own Kalani Pokipala and Stu “WerdUpStu” Lagaras, said that they began as musicians but decided to start marketing the well-known Japanese toy due to its overbearing popularity.

“It takes skill to do something like this,” said Pokipala, a 29-year-old who hails from Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.

And what a skill it is. Pokipala and Lagaras go to various events, such as the Honolulu Night Market and Art + Flea, to demonstrate and teach others how to play with a kendama. At each event, the duo demonstrate and teach at least 25 various tricks with the kendama, including the Space Walk trick, which includes spinning the kendama in a circular rotation and thrusting the ball in mid-air.

“It’s kind of like a stress reliever for everyone,” said Lagaras, a 34-year-old Honolulu resident. Lagaras added that he and Pokipala developed a love for the Japanese toy in June, which is around the same time they started selling the kendamas.

The Chordinauts said they have already mastered the art of how to play with a kendama and now they are passing on their knowledge and skill of playing the popular cup-and-ball game. They say it takes approximately four hours for someone to learn the basics of playing with a kendama.

“Kids nowadays are so concentrated on their phones and everything, and we don’t want to take that away from them,” Pokipala said. “But playing with a kendama kind of lets them go back to the roots, how it all used to be before technology came around.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

So we can all thank the creators of the kendama, saving kids from technology one day at a time.