The year 2020 isn’t just the beginning of a new decade for kendama, it is the dawn of a new age for kendama. The global kendama community is by far the largest it has ever been. Modern kendama influences have spread country by country, city by city, community by community, comrade to comrade. Kendama’s global reach has primarily been produced under the umbrellas of only a handful of dominant sources, all of which are brands that sell kendamas. It makes sense to me; A company needs a way to market its wares, and in the past decade all have turned to social media platforms as the primary outlets for communicating the message of spreading kendama... by buying one of theirs.
Whether it’s by announcing the next drop, sharing photos of the newest pro model, or uploading a video of a player doing a trick concept that inspires others to experiment, social media has shaped kendama’s online landscape. With high-quality trick edits appearing on Youtube more often than ever, kendama groups emerging on Facebook, and Instagram making the hashtag #kendamalife an actual influencer lifestyle, it is safe to say social media is here to stay.
To go further, we can thank the offices of Kevin Systrom at Instagram, for allowing kendama to manifest itself in the most shareable way humanly possible. I like to joke that Instagram was meant for kendama as you can really explore all of Instagram's content capabilities through playing kendama. It is common that players create Instagram accounts for the sole purpose of sharing their kendama journey with the world. Take a look at #28TricksLater and how it has become a traditional part of online kendama culture.
Not only that, but Instagram has allowed kendama awareness to escalate extremely quickly, something I think the entire kendama community takes for granted. Skateboarders, BMX riders, and Inline skaters just 20 years ago had to wait weeks to see any new footage, photos, or stories from pros and amateurs alike. Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook permit players and brands to instantly experience not only promotional content, but build personal relationships together like never before.
If the Japanese Kendama Association had had an Instagram account in 1975 when they first started, there’s a good chance that kendama wouldn't still be referred to as a “traditional Japanese skill-toy” in the year 2020. As a matter of fact, I have never even played an officially Japanese kendama. I started playing in 2014 and I’ve never owned an Ozora; I started with a cheap Chinese kendama, then moved on to American brands that sourced them from China. So, when we answer curious onlookers who ask what we're doing by saying, “It's an 18th century traditional skill toy from Japan”, we actually are speaking a fallacy. Sure, it originated in Japan, but Japanese skateboarders don’t call skateboards a "traditional American wooden toy." They’re too busy making skateboarding their own.
So with that said: without social media, kendama would still be an obscure Japanese souvenir to the rest of the world. Playing kendama as we know it today requires learning a lot of new information very quickly to be able to wrap your head around the vocabulary, play styles, and especially the physical science that kendama demands. But not to worry, a quick Google search can take care of that! So, let's take a moment to thank Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the original founders of Google, for helping us understand how to play kendama.
With modern kendama becoming popular in the early 21st century, there is simply no doubt that it has benefitted from the instant connections the internet provides. But there’s a catch: kendama players have very short attention spans. Perhaps that’s why they play kendama in the first place, as a sort of fidget device. Or, maybe it’s because of the instant, short-form online content that they have been so conditioned to engage with.
It would be easy to say that kendama seems pretty well covered, then, within the online world; however, social media is not without its limits. There is something that kendama culture lacks as a whole, and that is long-form content. The article you are reading this very second is one of those longer-form pieces that I am talking about. Another great example of long-form content is the Dama Nerds Podcast, where episodes usually go for well over an hour. Longer-form content allows an in-depth exploration of kendama culture and unveils the deeper connections players have with kendama and with each other.
Kendama culture has been created and cultivated at an expedited pace through social media, and it’s easy to imagine why some people may feel that it’s “always been this way,” despite modern kendama being a relatively new concept. When I was interviewed for another blog called The Street Feed, I was asked what I enjoy the most about working in kendama media. I answered that being able to bring something new to the table and make a difference in a culture that is still young and malleable is the most rewarding part, by far.
The primary goal of my kendama blog, Honed Media, is to provide an alternative source for kendama-related content that isn’t solely focused on new products or tricks, but also shines a spotlight on the surrounding culture that makes kendama more than just a game. The way I see it, spreading kendama is best done “on the ground,” so to speak; and the best way to sustain a community is to double down on the stories of people who make up the community - the people who are out there on the front lines. Having this perspective has helped me, through Honed, find ways to make a difference not only in my local community, but also online with the global community as well.
So, if my role in serving the kendama community - my community - is being behind a computer creating and curating media that is made by and for kendama players, and providing a platform and a space for players to come as they are and feel welcomed and accepted, that is a challenge I will embrace wholeheartedly; the future of kendama depends on it.
Written by Ryan Reese of Honed Media