On a recent visit to Enumclaw High School during lunch time, principal Jill Burnes pointed out a relatively new phenomenon: many students were playing with a wooden toy that resembed a cup attached to a handle at one end and with a ball tethered to it -- the object of which was to get the ball into the cup.
Upon closer inspection, the toy was a bit more sophisticated than that. There were, in fact, two cups back to back at the end of the handle that at the other end featured a third cup. Still, the object of the game still appeared that you want to get the ball in one of the cups.
There in lies the misperception. In fact, the kendama is an ever-involving toy on which practitioners can spend hours working to perfect various skills and tricks. Check out some of the YouTube videos we included in this article for examples.
When did the modern kendama craze catch on? KendamaUSA (www.kendamausa.com), which promotes and sells the toy in an assortment of sizes and colors, takes credit for introducing the toy to the western world outside of Japan beginning around 2006.
More recently, the Seattle Juggling Festival featured a kendama workshop as well as a Kendama Battle; youth in Edmonds were spotted in March doing tricks with the toys; and this Saturday, June 16, it appears there will be a Battle in Seattle for a kendama showdown (see event's Facebook page).
In Enumclaw, Burnes said the trend just took off. Sami Ritter, owner of , said she's seen the uptick in demand over the last two months. Ritter's business may be the only local source for kendamas and she's having trouble keeping up the supply.
"I'm all out," she told Patch Monday, though a new order was supposed to be in midweek.
The kendamas have actually helped spread word of Ritter's business as far out as Bonney Lake, she said.
Ritter carries various colors and sizes of kendamas, and prices range from $24 to $28. While not the most expensive toy, Ritter has experienced her share of attempted shoplifting and has moved the prized merchandise behind the counter to be safe.
Still, her business has become a hang-out of sorts for local youth. On many afternoons, kids hang out in her lobby practicing their tricks and she encourages them to head outside as far out as the sidewalk to show off their skills.
"They're great for hand-eye coordination," she said. "And they keep the kids out of trouble."