Japanese toys are known for their simplicity and creativity. Not only that, but they gave birth to a variety of fun games that can be enjoyed by both children and adults. Take the international popularity of Kendama, for instance. Kendama started off as a traditional Japanese children’s toy. However, it became somewhat of a competitive sport in Japan, in which full-fledged adults would flaunt their cup-and-ball techniques in Kendama tournaments.
The toy is so addictive that it became popular with foreigners as well. In only a couple of months, a traditional Japanese toy became an international Internet sensation, on pair with slime and fidget spinners. Today, we take a closer look at five traditional Japanese toys that you or may not know about.
cover photo credit:Nesnad
As we mentioned above, Kendama is one of the most popular traditional Japanese toys in the world. It has been created in the 20th century in Japan and is a simple cup-and-ball toy. The ‘ken’ in ‘kendama’ refers to the handle of the toy, which has a sharp edge that somewhat resembles that of a sword, and ‘dama’ is the Japanese word for ball, which is attached on a string. The toy also has two cups on each side of the spike, in which you’re supposed to catch the ball as you swing it around. Kendama can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike – and it is said that the most skillful Kendama players have mastered over 1000 different techniques!
Those of you who know a bit of Japanese would think of octopus when they hear the word ‘tako’. However, tako also stands for kite – another very popular children’s toy. It is mostly considered a little boys’ toy, but no one will try to stop you if you want to fly a kite when you’re 26. Or whatever age, for that matter. Japanese tako kites are usually made of washi paper and feature traditional motifs like Kabuki actors, samurai, noh masks, geisha, animals, and other traditional Japanese imagery. They make great display objects as well if you want to decorate your house with some budget souvenirs from Japan.
Beigoma, also known as just ‘koma’, is the ancestor of Beyblade and other spinning top games that were extremely popular in the 90’s here in the West. They are nothing but steel or wooden tops that are spun using one’s hands or a string. They are usually launched into a ‘ring’, and players would try to spin their koma as skillfully as possible so that it would knock out the other players’ ones. Much like kendama, koma also has its own otaku community. People of all ages try to perfect their beigoma spinning techniques, and always come up with new, next-level skills – such as balancing the spinning top on your palm or a string.
Menko is a traditional Japanese card game for kids. It’s not technically a card game, as it doesn’t use a traditional deck of cards; instead, menko uses specials rectangular or round cards with Japanese motifs on them. They are more like collector’s cards than anything else – and playing the game means staking your prized collection of cards against your opponent. The game is played by throwing your card on top of the opponent’s and flip it. If you manage to flip it, you get your opponent’s card. If not, the opponent takes yours.
Think of Hanetsuki as the traditional Japanese version of badminton. The shuttlecock is made from a seed with colorful feathers attached to it, and the paddles are rectangular and made of wood. The paddles are also decorated with Japanese motifs, including geisha, samurai, kabuki actors, and sometimes landscapes and animals. The game is usually played by young girls, but there’s also the tradition of playing Hanetsuki on the first day of the New Year. The longer the shuttlecock is airborne, the better one’s fortune will be in the year to come. Hanetsuki paddles are also kept as display objects in modern day Japan.
As you can see, traditional Japanese toys serve a lot of purposes. They can be enjoyed by both children and adults, and are sometimes even used as decor, grace to their aesthetic appeal. They also make great souvenirs to bring home from Japan – be it as novelty toys for your little ones, or, yet again, display objects for decorating your house.
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