IWAKURA, AICHI PREF. – Iwakura in Aichi Prefecture is striving to make the city a mecca of yo-yos, which were a big hit in the country in the 1980s and 1990s when more than 10 million people nationwide were thought to be fans.
Iwakura, located about 10 minutes north by train from Nagoya, is known for its long row of cherry trees along the Gojo River.
“But in the cherry blossom offseason, there were no tourist attractions,” said Toru Kanai, 56, head of a nonprofit organization commissioned by the Iwakura Municipal Government to promote tourism in the city.
It has been few years since Iwakura started the effort to use the toy to promote tourism in the city.
About three years ago, Kanai came up with the idea of using yo-yos after he learned that three world champion yo-yo players lived in Iwakura. The city also has a dedicated yo-yo store.
Since then, workshops to teach yo-yo skills have been held six times, and citizens aged from 7 to 77 have participated.
Last year, the city launched a project to produce made-in-Iwakura yo-yos. In March, the project created its first prototype yo-yo in consultation with a world champion and in partnership with a local company.
According to project members, the Iwakura yo-yo is designed to be durable and is priced reasonably. Players can use it to master various skills with varying degrees of difficulty. The yo-yo is scheduled to go on sale within fiscal 2017, which ends next March.
Yo-yos still have worldwide popularity. More than 30 countries are members of the International Yo-Yo Federation.
Former world champion Shinya Kido, 28, works at the yo-yo shop Rewind in Iwakura.
“There are more than 1,000 orders per month from in and outside Japan,” said Kido. Yo-yos are “not only a toy, but a device for self-expression through each player’s original skills,” he said.
Kido hopes that one day he can bring Iwakura-made yo-yos to the other side of the world.
In the future, the project members are planning to ask elementary schools in the city to use yo-yos in extracurricular activities.
“The short-term and intensive play style of yo-yos will naturally teach how to make distinction between working and relaxing, and therefore may be useful for studying,” Kanai said.