Japanese Language Blog

Japanese traditional toy: Kendama Posted by on Nov 27, 2013 in Culture

Recently, my older son bought his first Kendama (Kendama,けん玉) with his allowance (Okozukai, お小遣い). It sounds like a lot of his friends at school are playing with Kendama these days. Kendama is one of the Japanese traditional toys that has been around for quite a long time.  When I was growing up, it was one of those toys that everyone had at least one or two laying around the house. Kendama is also called, “Cup and Ball” in English.

The Kendama is made from a stick with a point at one end, three attached cups, and a ball with a small hole in one end. The cups on the sides are called the big cup(Ozara,大皿) and small cup(Kozara, 小皿). The ball is connected to the stick by piece of string. The stick has a point with which the player can attempt to spear the ball.  The other end of the cup is called the medium cup(Chuzara,中皿).

The main idea of the game is by tossing the ball, you attempt to catch it in one of the cups or to spear it with the point of the stick. Although it may sound simple, once you start playing the game, you will soon find out that it takes some practice to place the ball on one of the cups.

As I was reading more about Kendama,  it was interesting to find out that although Kendama is one of the traditional Japanese toys, it is believed that the original idea of playing with Kendama came from France in 16th century.


It was as early as 1809, when Kendama was first introduced as a toy in Japan. Original shape of Kendama looks a bit different from the one used today.

In Japan, Kendama game is standardized by the Japan Kendama Association, which was established in 1975.  The associated was established with the idea of promoting the Kendama to wider population not only within Japan but internationally.  The association hosts various tournaments throughout Japan.   If you would like to read more about Kendama and how to play, this is their English web site: http://kendama.or.jp/english/.

To give you an idea on how to play with Kendama and what type of tricks you can do, I have attached the following video.  In this video, a 5th grader boy goes over various techniques using his Kendama.  At the end, he also incorporates his spin top(Koma, 駒) to it. It is amazing to see what he can do with Kendama.


Hope you got to know a little bit about Kendama.  If you are new to Kendama, you might want to pick one up so you can practice your skill over the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  These days, you can easily find Kendama in any toy stores throughout the U.S.


Keep learning Japanese with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: keiko

Born and raised in Japan. She currently lives in U.S. with her husband and two kids.


  1. Josh:

    Wow never knew that kendama originally came from France. Nice article!

  2. Rolin Nugent:

    i have been playing kendama for two years and i am absolutely in love with it