Kendama Buyer's Guide
The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide to Kendamas
Kendamas are hot!
As recently as just a few years ago, I’d be willing to bet that you’d probably never even heard of the kendama before.
But what started out as an obscure Japanese ball and cup game of skill has turned into a full blown craze in the United States.
Let me tell you more about the Kendama, and how to choose one to buy. We’ll start at the very beginning….
A Super Short History of the Kendama
The kendama has been used in Japan as a skill toy for more than 200 years. But here’s the funny part about that. There’s a theory that the kendama is actually just a Japanese adaptation of French bilboquet, a wooden ball and cup toy introduced in the 1770s during the Silk Road period of Japanese history when Japan first began trade with Europeans.
Or it might have been independently invented in Japan, just like there are ball and cup toys in other parts of the world that didn’t get them from France. We’ll never know for sure.
We do know that the Japanese turned the simple ball and cup toy into something much, much cooler and more fun though. And that’s all that really matters.
Kendama Parts and Terminology
The Ken is the main body or handle of the kendama. The piece with three cups and a spike. The Tama is the ball.
Which leads to the inevitable question, “So why isn’t it called the Kentama instead?”
Let’s just say that it has something to do with the varying ways that you can transliterate Japanese symbols and leave it at that.
There are some other cool part names that you don’t really need to know. But we’re going to tell you anyway, just for fun.
Kensaki: the wooden spike on the end of the handle.
Sarado: the cross piece with the two cups that looks like a hammer head.
Ozara: the biggest cup.
Kozara: the middle cup, which is the smaller of the two cups on top.
Chuzara: the smallest cup, which is also known as the cup on the bottom of the handle.
Ana: the hole in the Tama (the ball, remember?) where you can catch it with the Kensaki (the spike).
Ito: The string. It is usually 38 cm long or longer, though.
Regular kendamas. A standard sized kendama is usually 7 inches tall with the ball sitting on the spike, from the bottom of the kendama to the end of the ball.
Jumbo kendamas. A jumbo kendama is bigger, at about 9.5 inches tall with the ball sitting on the spike, from the bottom of the kendama to the end of the ball.
There’s such a thing as “mini Kendamas,” but they seem like a total waste of time to us, so we don’t carry them and we don’t know how big they are. They are more like party favors than playable kendamas, and best ignored.
What’s the Deal with JKA licensed Kendamas? Do I Need One?
Do you plan to fly to Japan to compete in a competition there? If not, you do not need a JKA licensed kendama with the little sticker on it. The best we can tell, they keep changing the patent on their kendama designs just before the previous patent expires by making some insignificant change, so they can be the only ones in charge of the market in Japan.
JKA licensed kendamas are not really relevant outside Japan, and are not any better or worse than other kendamas. Well, maybe they are worse, because there are some really cool custom kendamas out there made out of cool hardwoods like cherry that would never be able to get a JKA sticker, but would still be awesome to own and use.
What’s the Deal with Wood Dents and Paint Chips? My Kendama Isn't Perfect! Is it Bad Quality or Something?
Wood dents and paint chips on your kendama are a badge of honor, because they prove that you actually use and practice with your kendama and don’t just carry it around to display it. The more you use your kendama and break it in, the better it works over time. It gets “stickier” and stays in the cup better. So you should be proud of the way your kendama looks after you break it in.
Just Tell Me What to Buy!! Then Shut Up And Take My Money!!!
We like the way you think!
Here are four cool Kendama suggestions. You can't go wrong with any of these.
Duncan Komodo Kendama. Good quality wood construction and it comes from Duncan, the famous name in yoyos.
Yomega Kendama Pro. Another good quality wooden kendama, from Yomega. It's solid.
Large Kendama Bahama Kendama. A jumbo kendama for extra large fun that makes you look like you have tiny, baby hands.
YoyoFactory Catchy LED Kendama. It's a plastic kendama, so it doesn't play quite as well as wood. But it lights up, so it's super cool looking. Worth it!
And don't forget to buy extra kendama strings, because they wear out just like yoyo strings.