The History of Kendama

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The History of Kendama:

The History of Kendama

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The kendama games today are made from a stick with a point at one end, three attached cups, and a ball with a small hole in one end. The cups on either side of the stick are called the big cup and small cup. The ball is connected to the stick by a roughly 40-centimeter (16-inch) piece of string. At the end of the stick is a point with which the player can attempt to spear the ball. At the other end of the stick is a cup called the medium cup.

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The game is basically played by tossing the ball and attempting to catch it in one of the cups or to spear it with the point of the stick. Although it may sound simple, there are a nearly unlimited number of specific techniques for doing so. Many people may think that kendama was invented in Japan, but this is not actually the case. While many different theories exist, there are records indicating that kendama originated in France in the sixteenth century. There are also theories that this game was developed in Greece or China, and the absolute truth is not known.

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In France, this game was called bilboquet. Bil means "ball," and boquet means "small tree." This word expresses the fact that the game involved playing with a small wooden ball. The game as it was played then was different from what we know as kendama today; there was a large cup and a small cup on either end of a stick, to which a ball was attached with a string. The player would continually toss and catch the ball, alternating between the two cups.

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Kendama is believed to have come to Japan via the Silk Road during the Edo period (1603-1868) into Nagasaki, the only Japanese city open to foreign trade at the time. While it may have entered the country around the middle of the Edo period in around 1777 or 1778, the exact date is uncertain. At the time, kendama was apparently enjoyed by adults as a sort of drinking game. A player who made a mistake was forced to drink more.

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As Japan entered the Meiji era (1868-1912), the Ministry of Education introduced kendama in the report on children's education that it put together in 1876, and the game gradually began to catch on among young people. In 1919, during the Taisho era (1912-1926), the forerunner of today's kendama went on sale. It was called Nichigetsu Ball (Sun-and-moon ball), because the ball looked like the sun, while the shape of the shallow carved cups was like a crescent moon. This toy became a huge hit, and from this time into the beginning of the Showa era (1926-1989), a variety of different types of kendama appeared, including a ball attached to a kind of paddle.

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