words by Keith Matsumura
This summer all nine members of the KendamaUSA team had the privilege to travel to Japan for the Kendama World Cup here in Hatsukaichi Japan, where I write this from now. I personally have been here only two nights, but it has already been crazy busy and exciting. I want to share with everyone my thoughts and my perspective as the trip unfolds.
A couple of days ago, or maybe three or four days, it’s hard to tell at this point, I disembarked from Wenatchee, Washington for Seattle. I spent one night in Seattle and caught a flight to Hawaii in the morning, where I was supposed to catch a connection on to Japan. My flight from Seattle got delayed on the tarmak and despite running out of the plan and through the Honolulu airport as fast as I could, I still didn’t reach the gate for my next flight in time. I was rebooked for a flight 24 hours later to continue on to Japan. I was a little bummed about missing precious Japan time with my kendama family, but the airline got me a hotel at Waikiki Mariott for the night with free dinner where I had a really nice evening by myself.
The next day I made it back to the airport and caught my flight to Osaka, where I was told that a serious typhoon might be raging when I got in. Because of my late arrival and the typhoon, no one from Global Kendamas Network was there to pick me up and take me to Hiroshima where everyone else was at that point. I didn’t know what the situation was going to be for me getting there until I made it to Japan. I had to roam around until I found some wifi to contact GLOKEN and figure out where I was supposed to be trying to get to. I ended up buying the wrong train tickets twice, and finally getting help from a train station employee to get the right ones. I caught two normal trains and had my first Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) ride by myself, which was an amazing experience. Despite not understanding one sentence anyone told me during the whole trip, and after stopping at the wrong station twice, I finally made it to Onoura near Hatsukaichi where kendama legend Zawa and Gloken picked me up and drove me to the hotel where everyone was staying. Even though I hadn’t slept in a really long time, there was much kendama jamming to be done at the hotel until 3am when I got there.
The next morning we had a great Japanese breakfast in the hotel. I love Japanese food; I think that I feel a lot better when I am in Japan because of the healthy food they eat in correct portions, and also because it’s so hot that you’re always sweating out toxins and having to replenish. We headed on to Miyajima island with a packed bus full of kendama players from literally all around the world. KendamaUSA was there from the USA and Canada, KendamaCo from the US, Sweets from the USA, Romania, France, and some other places maybe too; Terra from Canada, some players from Hawaii, Yan from Russia, Ruisch from the Netherlands, and some more too (sorry to leave anyone out but there are a lot of people here and i’m pressed for time to write this update right now! Gloken is keeping us on a tight schedule for the tour/World Cup, and by tight schedule I mean trying to heard dozens of kendama players like cats around to different locations and minimize the amount of trouble we’re causing).
On Miyajima we had the unique opportunity to sit in on a ceremony in the sacred shrine and to perform kendama on the sacred shrine there as well. It was nerve wracking because we were told that if we dropped our kendamas or hit anything on the stage we would be in big trouble. At the end of everyone going up to perform individually, Zoomadanke came up to perform. Dave Mateo and I were asked to be Zoomadanke’s helpers and side guards on the stage to catch any wayward tamas that might slip during the performance. We both got to put on Zoomadanke’s perfomance clothes and be on the stage with them while they put on an electrifying and appropriate performance for the spectators and Japanese gods of the shrine. I overhead Kodama (one half of Zoomadanke) talking to Matt Jorgenson after the event about how incredibly honored he was to have performed on that stage and how nervous he was. I began to realize that getting the chance to perform on that stage was a really, really big deal. I don’t think many people at all get to set foot in the inner shrine or on the stage, much less foreigners. Unreal that we got no.
We had another performance and jam session with a bunch of local kids from Hatsukaichi basically right after returning from Miyajima. This was due to us leaving late from Miyajima. There was a perfect area for a good skate session, and five of us including me brought skateboards. We got pretty distracted. At the park/gold course where we jammed with the kids Kazuma Iwata showed up with some gifts for us. Amazing laminated Mugen Musou tamas were given to all the foreigners that showed up for the Kendama World Cup. It was an honor to receive one, but more importantly it was great to see Kazuma again!
After the day was all said and done it had been an incredibly full. I was really tired but at dinner the energy levels took a swing up again and we ended up doing consistency games to receive Mugen Musou pendants from Kazuma, and then some of us spent quite a while trying to throw chopsticks like darts into bottles. Matt Jorgens0n and Matt Ballard take top honors in that game.
The best part of out hotel is that we have an Onsen (Japanese hot pools and bath house) connected to our building. I went and had a good solo Onsen session and was then joined by Thorkild May and Shimadera-san. I stayed with them for a while longer and went straight to sleep afterwards. Did I mention that any kind of covering is a real weird thing to do in an Onsen? Japanese bath houses are traditionally enjoying fully naked, and if you think that it would be awkward to chill in some epic hot pools naked with your homies then you’re wrong. It’s basically the best experience ever. It’s very relaxing and good for your health.
Well, sorry for the quick update with no pictures and no proofread, but I have to go eat breakfast and get ready to leave for the first round of the Kendama World Cup today! I’ll keep you all updated whenever I can on what’s going on here in Japan, and hopefully bring you some pictures too!