The origins of Kendama

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The origins of Kendama:

The origins of Kendama

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The direct origins of kendama co can not be traced back to one singel origin. The basic principle is so natural and universal that from the very beginning of mankind there have always been similar games in all hunting cultures as skills for hunting animals were vital the eye-hand -coordination had to be trained from early childhood onwards.

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E.g. the Canadian-native people called Inuits' game called Pommawonga (spike the fish),this is one of the oldest known version. They made their game from animal-bones. Presumably the game was first used in hunting rituals, for example to ask an oracle about the outcome of a hunt.

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The more recent origins which are prooven go back to 16th century France, where a game called bilboquet was a popular past-time enjoyment at the court of Henri III. In an aristocrat's diary it says: "in the summer of 1585 the children were enjoying themselves in the streets by playing bilboquet". It is assumed in course of history the variety of Kendama we have today has developed from bilboquet. In Europe "Kendama", or its European forerunners had its heyday in the latter half of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century.

The Japanese Kendama:

The Japanese Kendama Even though Japan's native people, the Anui, already had invented their own Kendama-type game, the Kendama version we know today probably goes back to an import from Europe. It is assumed that the Kendama came to Japan at about 1777 during the Edo-dynasty (1603-1868),via the Silk Road it got to Nagasaki, the only town open to foreign trade at the time. In his "essay on pleasureable and fun games" Kita Muranobu described the game of Kendama in 1830.

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Back then the game was called „Sukuitamaken“ (spoon-kendama) and to win a player had to catch the ball with 5 or 3 tries. Games like that were wide spread as convivial drinking games in Japan's entertainment districts at the time of the Edo-period. One player after the other tried to catch the ball and who failed had to drink.

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At the time of the the Meji-period (1868-1912) Kendama was especially popular with women as a past-time. In 1876 it was mentioned in the „Girls’ Own Book of Amusement“ as „Sakazukioyobidama“ (Sake-cup and balll). As the name suggests it is a translation of the English term "Cup-and-Ball" , because the Dutch translator obviously didn't know the term „Sukuitamaken“ (spoon-kendama). The book was about the latest trends in Europe.

The modern Kendama:

The modern Kendama Today's Kendama comes from the so called "Nichigetsuboru"(Sun-and-Moon-Ball). It first appears in the Taisho-period (1912-1926) and its name derives from the red ball which remindes one of the sun and the cups looks like a sickle moon. Between 1919 and 1920 Mr Hamaji Egusa from the Hiroshima area refined the Kendama from the Meji-period, improved it and registered his new design as "Nichigetsuboru". It has a handle with a sharpened spike to which a ball was tied as well as a small, medium- an large cup to catch the ball.

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This was the invention of the modern Kendama. At the time every Kendama was made with a foot lathe and by hand, so only small numbers could be manufactured. After the introduction of the motor lathe the Kendama's production capacities kept on growing rapidly and "Nichigetsuboru" fast became popular all over Japan. At the end of the Taisho-period , in 1926, toy stores in all bigger cities were selling red and white versions of the game.

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