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19th-century Japanese toy recast with 21st-century tech

The kendama is a toy of yesteryear that is enjoying a resurgence thanks to YouTube. Now, a Japanese company is modernizing the toy and adding an app.

Dendama's modern kendama includes sensors.


The kendama, a toy popular in Japan the 1800s, has made a comeback in recent years thanks to YouTube. Now, a Japanese company is re-creating the traditional toy with modern bells, whistles (and sensors).

The classic version consists of a wooden cross with shallow cups on three tips and a rounded spike on the fourth. A wooden ball with a hole in it is attached to the cross with string. The player has to flick the ball into one of the cups, or impale the ball on the rounded spike.

The kendama has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years, with enthusiastic players streaming their increasingly complex tricks on YouTube. To build on this, a small company called Dendama is crafting a 21st century version of the toy.

Dendama's toy comes equipped with sensors on each point of the cross, along with built-in tilt sensors, so it can tell the player if they pulled off a trick correctly.

The sensors relay information to a dedicated app, which lists tricks and marks them off each time you complete one. There's even a "match mode" in which two people try to out-trick each other, with damage dealt to a player in the form of vibrations to their toy if their foe successfully completes a trick. The app works on both iOS and Android.

Dendama's toy is not yet a reality. The company has turned to crowdfunding via Japan's Makuake. It has raised 94 percent of its goal so far, with 37 days left in its campaign.