By Andrew Garas
Social media has become a constant escape for us, especially in the year of the pandemic when we are all trapped inside. We have found ourselves stuck inside, socially detached, and most of all, bored. Boredom will be different for everyone, but many of us will look to social media and our phones to “self-medicate” our monotonous lives. Author of Logged in and Stressed Out, Paula Durlofsky said “Anything we do to suppress, deny, avoid, or minimize negative emotions is considered a self-medicating behavior”. (source). For me, I have decided to ditch social media and my phone, unplug, and instead self-medicate with a new hobby: kendama.
Kendama is a wooden skill toy originating from Japan that has grown much more popular in the USA in recent years. I learned about it in 2013 as I was very into another skill toy, yo-yo, back then (and still am today). The kendama consists of 3 cups, the big cup, small cup, and base cup as well as a “sword” or spike. It is tied to a ball with a hole on a string. It may sound basic, but the sport of kendama has evolved past its original Japanese origin with much more advanced tricks, paints, woods, and shapes of the ken itself. When I first found about it in 2013 (the time of the original American boom of the toy), I bought two kendamas and attempted to learn, but eventually failed. I found the toy difficult and frustrating to learn and eventually gave up. Over the years, I saw a resurgence of the toy on social media, but I figured I wouldn’t be good enough to pick it back up again.
In late 2020, I ended up finding an old kendama while cleaning my room. The wood was absolutely trashed, and the shape of it was nearly unusable. I had limited knowledge of tricks but decided to buy a new one. When it arrived, I instantly started learning more new age tricks, tricks I didn’t even think we’re possible when I first picked up the toy in 2013. The cups were bigger, the paint stickier, and all around the experience of picking up a new skill was extremely gratifying. Since then, kendama has become one of my main hobbies and is something I now consider to be inseparable from.
One of the reasons kendama helped my mental health so much is it was something tangible to get me off my phone. Before finding the toy, my pandemic year had consisted of a lot of self-medication in the form of staring at my phone. I would spend hours on Youtube and Instagram, wasting time and energy. I never felt fulfilled from this. In an article by Sean Illing on boredom and our phones, he states: “The rise of the smartphone certainly has meant constant companionship — or at least the promise of constant companionship. We don’t always find it” (source). This was certainly true for me as I was finding what I wanted out of the endless cycle of scrolling. Kendama gave me a reason to unplug, focus, hone my skills and progress as a player. I set trick goals for myself everyday and do my best to reach them.
On top of getting me away from the screen, Kendama is also a very fluid hobby and one that can fit in with many other things. Many people consider it snug with music, skateboarding, BMX, nature, yo-yo, photography, design and much more. Kendama is for everyone, and for me, ended the mindless cycle of scrolling, I am never bored when I carry a kendama. In research done by Kent State, they found that in our downtime between work or class, we have “happy hour” and can do whatever we want with our time. His take on this was: “walking during these periods could prove more rewarding than browsing through Instagram. To coin a phrase, “Take a stroll, not a scroll”. (source). For me, kendama, is that stroll. It is physical, challenging, relaxing, and, overall fun. I think it could be the cure to boredom, it is at least for me.