The Japan Kendama Association (JKA) was established by a kind and gentle author of children’s stories in 1975. His name was Issei Fujiwara (藤原一生). (Issei was his pen name, Kazuo was his given name) The JKA has since become a large nationwide kendama organization. The internationalization of kendama, which was his earnest desire, has also been realized thanks to the power and popularity of the Internet. Now kendama events are held all over the world. This enables kendama lovers to promote mutual friendships across borders and foster strong ties between cultures.
Fujiwara became a writer because of the influence of his childhood experiences and he decided to provide children with new hopes and dreams. Additionally, in the 1970’s, popularizing kendama became his life’s work. This became his mission and he poured his heart and soul into it for the remainder of his life. He felt the cosmic potential of kendama and wanted to pass it on to children in a positive and organized manner.
He spread kendama throughout Japan utilizing strong-minded leadership while working energetically on unifying and codifying the techniques. He diligently organized promotion tests and passionately strove for the organization of national tournaments. He continued his activities not only because he hoped people would learn how to play kendama, but he hoped in his heart that through kendama people could make friends while cultivating a gentle mind that allows people to help each other. This is part of the concept behind Kendama-dō “The Way of Kendama.” His spirit has been inherited and passed down to the JKA members.
The following is a brief biography of Issei Fujiwara. This helps to introduce the spark that became the heart of the JKA.
Kazuo Fujiwara (May 1, 1924 – February 27, 1994) was born and raised in Tokyo. However his parents divorced just after he was born. He lived with his father who worked in a printing office. His father was a heavy drinker and he turned nasty when he drank. It was not an uncommon occurrence for Kazuo’s father to leave home for days without giving him any money to survive. Kazuo was always lonely and never ate properly or enjoyed having enough food. Unfortunately the adversity made him an obstinate child who didn’t open his heart to anyone. He used to play kendama to forget his loneliness. Kendama was his lantern in the darkness of despair.
A Fateful Encounter
When he was six years old his father mysteriously disappeared. Kazuo was then adopted by a nearby church. Father Ichiro Ono, the priest he met there, greatly changed his outlook on life. Years later in life Issei wrote an episode about the priest in one of his children’s books. Here is the introduction to the story to illustrate his turning point. The hero was a poor lonely boy named Kazuo.
The story begins:
I am lonely. I don’t have a mother.
I don’t know where my father has gone.
The story continues: To ease his great loneliness one day he steals some money from the church even though he knew it was illegal and immoral. One of the kind priests noticed it and yet he didn’t scold Kazuo. Instead, he prayed to God, “Kazuo is not a bad boy. He just wants love from his mother.” When Kazuo saw the priest’s red eyes filled with tears he cried as well. All the deep pent up emotions of his yearning heart came rushing out like a great flood. Kazuo learned that he was not alone. He noticed that the priest was deeply worried about him and wanted to share in his sorrow.
The Kazuo character is actually based on Fujiwara’s own childhood and the priest is Father Ono. “We can live by believing and being considerate to each other.” Issei wanted to convey this message to children by writing about his experience. “The Red Eyes” was published in 1976. The book was reprinted again and again for more than 10 years. The book became a long time best seller to be certain. This was an exceptional case for an original children’s story.
After he graduated school he found work at a printing office. While he worked he visited many places to tell children stories illustrated with dramatic picture cards. This was an activity influenced by his friend and mentor Father Ono. In his lonely childhood Kazuo had become absorbed in picture stories performed by Father Ono. He wanted to give children those fantastic experiences just like Father Ono had done for him.
After World War II Issei began working at a book store that dealt in Christian books. In his spare time he devoured all types of books. Thus he developed an acute sense for literature in depth and detail. He thought that performing picture stories had, until then, just enabled him to come into contact with only a few children. With a desire to give “dreams” to many more children he began to write children’s stories. He then quit his job to make his new path as a writer in 1952 and adopted the pen name of Issei Fujiwara.
Among his works there is a book titled “Taro & Jiro were alive.” (タロ・ジロは生きていた ) This is his masterpiece based on a true story from 1959 about two dogs that had been taken to the Antarctic as part of an expedition party. Expressing the dignity of life and consideration for others this story touched the hearts of many people and became a best seller selling over three hundred thousand copies. It was read by one generation after another and it was even made into a Japanese movie titled “Antarctica” in 1983. It became a record-breaking hit. Later the Walt Disney Company acquired the rights to remake it in English. The Disney remake was released in 2006 and was titled “Eight Below.”
Inspired to teach kendama
One day Issei saw a boy among some kids holding a kendama and swinging the ball aimlessly. Issei said to the boy, “Just give it to me son, this is the way you hold the kendama. Look. ―There! I did it.” The boy was amazed and replied “wow, you are so good, sir.” “Of course!” he replied. “With diligence and a stout heart anything is within your grasp!” “I have mastered myself through kendama. So can you!” Later he recalled, “If I had just passed by the boy then I wouldn’t have devoted myself to kendama this much.”
Feeling extremely happy and pleased with the children’s response to the situation Issei showed them some tricks such as Airplane, Around the world, Lighthouse and so on. After a while he found himself surrounded by many children. It had been some time since he had last played kendama. He suddenly rediscovered how profound kendama was. The kendama was continually challenging and interesting because with a bit of imagination you could create many new techniques. In addition playing kendama was a good exercise. The flowers of kendama were beginning to bloom. Yet Issei wondered why kids had lost contact and had become disinterested in kendama.
At that time children tended to shut themselves in their rooms because of the pressures of school entrance examinations. Issei hoped to reactivate them and increase the bonds of their friendships between one another. Therefore he initiated a drive to establish the Japan Kendama Association as a base from which these benefits could be brought to future generations.
Issei traveled relentlessly throughout Japan aiming to develop kendama into a sport, organizing rules, and holding national tournaments. Today, thanks to his efforts, kendama is now very popular and well known.
Fujiwara Issei was a creative writer who wrote many original children’s stories that encouraged and helped kids to become people with lively imaginations and a strong character. His extraordinary efforts led to the establishment of the Japan Kendama Association on May 5, 1975.