This semester I have been attending a kendama circle at Kyoto University (Kyodai). The circle is held about once every two weeks at a community centre near Kyodai. At an average meeting there are about 5 to 7 people, sometimes more. Kendama is loved by people of all ages in Japan. While it is perhaps more traditionally considered a children’s toy, many also recognize it as a serious pursuit for adults young and old. Aside from being satisfying in other ways, Kendama appeals to me because there are no official rules, and every player you meet has a slightly different technique and selection of tricks.
There were a few regulars at the circle, all university students, but at an average meeting there would usually also be some other kids high-school age or younger, sometimes accompanied by a parent. Because the focus of the circle is ultimately on improving one’s skills, most conversation ends up being limited to explanations of particular tricks. However, because Kendama is generally a more casual and individualistic pursuit, it was not that hard to make other conversation. Even when not actively engaged with each other, members would support each other as they tried different tricks. This is not necessarily unique to Japan, but I was struck by the way in which people have reverence for relatively insignificant activities like kendama.
In the United States, when it comes to individualistic pursuits such as Kendama, I wouldn’t be exaggerating at all by saying that practitioners of such activities barely interact with or even acknowledge people who are less skilled than they are. Of course, there’s a slightly different dynamic in my case as I am a foreigner, but still I have not observed this phenomenon nearly as much in Japan. Joining this circle was a great experience and I hope I can become involved in similar activities in the future.