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On the streets of Tokyo, Zoomadanke’s “Kodaman” (Takeshi Kodama) and “Easy” (Hiroki Iijima) look like any other young men in their 20s or 30s. The second they start playing kendama, however, the pair will put on a performance that completely redefines the traditional wooden toy.

Zoomadanke is a professional kendama performance unit that was formed in December 2010. There was no major company pulling strings in the background — just two men, Kodama and Iijima, who decided that they enjoyed kendama so much they would make it into a career.

“It all just started out as something fun,” says Kodama, 34. “The image of kendama was rather uncool, and people mostly looked down on it as a plain and sedate toy. I thought that if we could change that image, people would see how great it really was.”

The two met at a toy-consultancy course, at which Iijima introduced Kodama to kendama. Iijima, a college student then, and Kodama, a former salaryman, had one thing in common — their love for toys.

“I think kendama has and will continue to evolve,” says Iijima, 23. “The amazing thing about it is the potential it has to bring together people from diverse backgrounds to collaborate and create something.”

Zoomadanke’s performances are a reflection of such a philosophy.

Using hip-hop, beatbox and even traditional Japanese music, Zoomadanke performs tricks using a kendama with a combination of smooth, graceful and sharp movements. The pair’s choreography is unique and entertaining, completely in sync with each other as they jump, twist and turn — all the time while doing kendama.

The two men have performed on television, at public spaces, parks and have even gone abroad to destinations such as Brazil and Hawaii.

“When you think about the fact that most people outside of Japan have never heard of kendama, imagine the endless possibilities it has,” Kodama said. “And like all toys, the great thing about it is, you don’t need to speak the language — you can communicate through kendama with anyone.”

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