This story has been repeated in various forms pretty much since we started getting more interest in kendama at go-en The Japanese Ramen Shoppe. As we grow the story grows so we thought it would be good to put down the words for those unable to meet us and hear about how it all began, our thoughts on the benefits of kendama, and how we see the kendama scene. Where we are able we will link to events mentioned to provide more detail. (links will open a new window)
In 2012 we opened a ramen shop in Manila and kendama was a table decoration along with several other Japanese toys. Our staff would play the games and when customers started seeing them play they wanted to try it too. After a while we brought an official Japanese Kendama Association (JKA) kendama to the shop and things really got interesting. Our staff got better and began teaching the customers who were interested. Then the customers began asking where they could get their own kendama so we brought in a few JKA models to sell at the shop. After that we went to cosplay, anime, and Japanese related exhibitions and events to promote and sell kendama. At our anniversary matsuri in 2014 we held our first kendama contest. It wasn’t very structured and there were only four participants but we had a lot of fun.
Also in May 2014, to coincide with the go-en Ramen second year anniversary, we started goenKendama as kind of a sister company to our ramen shop go-en. We have an online shop and ship all over the Philippines but we determined early on that we wanted to cater specifically to and support the Philippine market since we have a presence here with our ramen shop. We often have items that are not available elsewhere and are approached about shipping overseas but until the Philippine market is really moving along we will keep our focus here.
Kendama is a skill toy that develops hand-eye coordination, adds exercise to your daily routine, improves concentration, helps develop patience and fosters persistence. For younger players it’s a fun toy that can be a challenge to play, for older players it’s a good way to relax, focus, and put a little movement into what is often a mostly sedentary day.
Outside of the physical benefits it also helps people communicate and interact face-to-face in this digital world of texts, chats, and emails. While kendama can be practiced and enjoyed solo it’s also great to play in a group and lends itself to social interaction. There is no end of the road, no final level, there’s always more to learn more consistency to achieve. Even the best of the best have bad days and can’t hit their tricks. It makes them more human to those watching. It makes them more approachable because “hey, even the pros can goof.” Kendama also appeals because it doesn’t require massive strength, incredible agility, or super specialized skills. Most can learn the basics in a matter of minutes but it can take a lifetime to master; and the best part is that you don’t have to do it alone. There are tens of thousands of players worldwide who share their successes and failures so that the community grows.
The other great thing is that you’ll often find beginners and advanced players playing together; there’s not really any of the guarded hierarchy of some other sports where advanced players don’t really want to show others their tricks or stunts. The push for us is to have an all-inclusive group rather than cliques. We try to break down the walls and bring people together no matter their background, gender, or age. In some ways we’re also kind of the antithesis of the digital age. Kendama forces you to “singletask” not multitask, it fosters better human relationships because you are out in the real world interacting with real people not just staring into a screen chatting with someone’s avatar. Of course as the community expands beyond the local scene, a digital presence is still handy but it’s the people and the kendama that are paramount not just the digital devices and online services.
Pretty much since the beginning of our ramen shop we have promoted kendama and every year finds us at more events. We maintain a website for kendama information and sales and we’re also on various social media like Facebook and Instagram. While our ramen shop staff can teach anyone that visits how to play we also have organized kendama classes with teaching, games and occasionally a contest or two (photos & more). We’ve also worked with Animax to visit Manila schools to teach kendama and were invited to perform at their carnival event (video) as well. goenKendama has also been participants in various cosplay and Japanese events including Oh No Manga and Cosplay Mania. We’ve been invited to give demonstrations at schools and universities. Our work with the Embassy of Japan in Manila led to a speaking engagement at UP Dilliman. Additionally we have worked with the national chain, Taters, to bring kendama to a whole new segment of the population. We have also been fortunate to be included in various TV shows, newspaper write-ups (1 & 2), and blog posts that also covered our ramen shop. There was even a local documentary produced about kendama that included us. In the restaurant we often have kendama challenges that can win you a discount on your ramen. The idea is to introduce kendama to those who might not even know about it and make the whole dining out experience just that, an experience rather than just fueling up the body.
In 2015 we created two kendama teams to help with the promotion of kendama in the Philippines and be our interface with players and potential players. KenetyK is our performance team and you’ll see them at events up on stage as well as in the crowd teaching. Tripstyk is our instructors/training crew they definitely have skills but some are a bit shy about being up on stage.
Kendama isn’t just a toy or tool it’s a lifestyle. It’s a way to make friends and be friends, a way to improve yourself and help others improve. It’s a means to facilitate communication between real live human beings and a way to express your creative self even if you aren’t a traditional artist. To mix a number of metaphors and clichés: Kendama is life, there is no destination only evolution . . . but only if you choose it to be.