The Kendama: Can A Wooden Toy Be A Viral Sensation?

By Ben Adler

June 21, 2013

At a time when young people of all ages are focused on electronics and apps, the popularity of the kendama — a traditional Japanese toy made out of wood — seems like an anomaly. It hasn't caught on all over the U.S. yet, but it's a big craze on the West Coast and sales are growing. Kendama sellers say Sacramento is a particular hot spot. That's where 9-year-old Logan Tosta has honed his skills. (That's him in the video above.)

Logan says it took him about a day to learn how to do his first trick, landing the wooden ball in one of the cups. It was a month before he could get the ball on the spike consistently. Now, he can do tricks with names like Airplane, Jumping Stick and UFO, flipping the stick to catch the ball in different ways.

Kendamas seem to be the buzz these days at elementary schools all around Sacramento. My kindergartener knew all about them when I brought it up. He said his friends have them. Now he does, too.

But kendamas aren't that easy to find. They're usually at comic book stores, Japanese grocery stores, or online. And they aren't cheap. The one I bought cost about $17.

Vendors are reporting an uptick in the Midwest now, especially in Minnesota and Illinois. Seems like it might be possible for kendamas to go viral, even with no batteries, no screen, no buttons ... just a wooden ball attached to a wooden stick with a string.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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