Most school-aged children probably already know all about the kendama. The Japanese toy has gained wild popularity lately, especially among kids.
That was more than evident last Saturday to anyone near Second Childhood in downtown Hastings. The store was packed in the early afternoon for a special event with Matt “Sweets” Jorgenson, owner of a popular kendama brand.
Kendamas are a type of “ball-and-stick” toy. The “stick” is a hammer shaped wooden handle with shallow cups on the base and on the ends of the crosspiece and a spike at the top. A wooden ball, which has a hole in it to fit the spike, is tied to the handle by a string. Players jump and swing the ball and catch it on various parts of the handle.
Barb Hollenbeck, owner of Second Childhood, started selling kendamas because of a customer request more than a year ago.
“To me, I saw great value in the kendama,” she said. “It is a great skill toy that builds hand eye coordination and it is a unique toy that I thought would complement my selection of merchandise in my store.”
At first, it didn’t earn her much business, but that changed last fall.
“I sold kendamas sporadically, selling 12 in a year,” she said; “(in 2013) I sold 1,657, mostly in the fourth quarter.”
Hollenbeck said she’s seen the kendama craze come to Hastings through a number of summer camps middle school students had attended last year. Some camps used the toys to help build coordination, and the students took interest.
The boost in sales prompted Hollenbeck to host a special event just for the toy.
“I sold a lot of kendamas for Christmas, so I figured there would be a lot of kids that would want to expand their skill set,” she said.
She invited Jorgenson, owner of Sweets Kendamas, to do a demonstration, help kids develop their skills and sign autographs at the store. Jorgenson’s business is based out of Bloomington, and he’s been willing to travel to communities to teach tricks and techniques.
“He’s a really good role model for kids,” Hollenbeck said. “He works well with them, he communicates well with them, he’s very accessible.”
Saturday was the second time he had come to Hastings, but his first visit in October only attracted about 40 people, Hollenbeck said. Saturday’s event overwhelmed her with more than 100 people.
“The whole back area was just wall-to-wall people,” Hollenbeck said.
Kendamas have obviously been good for business, not only because of the number she’s sold, but also because people looking for kendamas have discovered her store. The marketing has been priceless, she said.
What parents seem to love is that the kendama is an activity their children can do that doesn’t involve video games or electronic devices, and allows them to interact with each other, Hollenbeck said. A group of students even gathered outside the store to practice their skills Saturday.
More kendama events may be in Hastings’ future.
“We hope to grow it and see where it goes,” Hollenbeck said.
There have been some discussions about holding some sort of competition, and she’d like to do some sort of event during Rivertown Days.