words by Keith Matsumura
Japan. It’s the birthplace of Kendama, and over one hundred years since the invention of this wooden skill toy that we all love so much, it’s still there and becoming more popular. For me this past summer, July of 2013 to be exact, I was able to travel to Japan to go to the World Kendama Open and the first ever Global Kendama Cup, which will make a return as the Kendama World Cup this coming July. I got to go in large part because of the prize money from my win at Dama Fest, and I can’t think of anything else I should have spent that money on instead. I got to go and meet some of the most legendary kendama players alive, as well as experience Japanese culture in a way I would never have imagined doing. Gloken (Global Kendamas Network) helped me out by letting me attach to their group of players and foreigners that were seeing Japan and going to the competitions. I can’t thank Mr. Imata and the Kubota family enough for housing me and feeding me while I was there!
A lot of players from outside of Japan made the trek as well. Matt Ballard, my good friend that I grew up with, came along with KROM and to shoot video (see above!). Rodney Ansell, Kristin Olinyk, and Alex Smith came from Canada, Thorkild May and Philip Eldridge came from Denmark, and Matt Decoteau and Trevor Starnes also came from the United States. These people plus our Japanese guides and friends composed a group of people that I had the time of my life with. It’s amazing what Kendama can do. It can bring people from all over the world to the same place to meet and do what they love together.
I even had the opportunity to meet Kazuma Iwata!
He met us on Miyajima Island and let us have the privilege of being the first people outside of the project to see the new Mugen Musous. Kazuma’s personal kendama that he was using was an emerald mugen. That day he told me that I could practice with and use his personal kendama for the World Kendama Open and Gloken Cup. He then went on to tell me that if I won Gloken Cup he would let me keep it. Well, I didn’t win. I tied Kenta Sakamoto for 3rd place with a loss to Satoru Akimoto (who better to lose to!), which I was ecstatic about except for the fact that I understood that this meant that I would need to give the emerald mugen back to Kazuma. Kazuma was not with us anymore and my instructions were to give it back to Tamotsu Kubota, who would get it back to Kazuma. We all went out to a park after Gloken Cup to set off fireworks, play kendama, and apparently to release all kinds of energy that we found somewhere. After it was all said and done, Tamotsu told me it was time to hand back the emerald mugen. I gave it back to him, only to be presented it as a gift from Kazuma right back. As far as epic moments in my life go, this was certainly near the top. Thank you Kazuma!
Some of us got together for a group photo during World Kendama Open.
I also had a really great time getting to know and hang out with Easy from Zoomadanke (Hiroki Iijima). My last day in Japan was spent with just Tamotsu and Iji. We ate good food, got too many mosquito bites trying to film around a small river, and sessioned in the train station for an hour or two before Easy’s train left.
I was there in Japan for less than a couple of weeks, maybe really just a bit over a week, but it was without a doubt some of the best times in my life. I had so much fun there it’s indescribable. More than that, though, was my joy in getting to be immersed in Japanese and Kendama culture entirely for a little while. I’m half Japanese myself, and because of that I have always been interested in that part of my heritage. I’ve wanted to see Japan since I was very little, and to get the chance to do it in such a fashion as I got to is amazing. I encourage all of you, if you ever have the chance to make it to Japan, do it, and enjoy the vending machines for me! (Everything comes in such small cans, I love it).
It was a big step for me in my kendama career to play kendama in Japan, even see the birthplace of Kendama, and hang out with legendary Japanese players. I can’t wait to go again someday. Huge thanks to KendamaUSA and Global Kendama Network for helping me and giving me the opportunity to live out dreams and do what I love. I’m working so that someday I can hopefully provide that same kind of dream-fulfilling opportunity to others.
Always have to get some food after playing Kendama all day long.
A personal thank you goes to Tamotsu for making this trip work for me. You’re the man! (This picture was in the airport right before I left)
I hope you all enjoy the video from the trip, and if you read what I had to say than I hope you enjoyed that too!
Dama on friends, here’s to community and good times with Kendama!
- Keith M.