I was ecstatic in the fleeting belief that I had made a really special new “find” today. My bubble was soon burst, when a quick search revealed that it wasn’t as much a new find rather than the good fortune to stumble upon a well established and celebrated speciality café. But while I may not be “breaking news” it still is one to get excited about, if you haven’t already heard about it. I am not sure whether to call it a theme cafe or a sports cafe or maybe even a shop with a cafe in it. Whatever you want to call it, Sulab, the Kendama Cafe in Kawagoe, certainly is a fun and unique space that will appeal to people of all ages, especially those into the kendama street sport.
For those that are into the (somewhat) traditional Japanese toy, this cafe is probably already on their radar. Sulab not only sell Kendama, they make them too. And the brand name is famous worldwide. According to some articles I read online, people come from all over the world to visit the small shop and cafe in Kawagoe. The pockmarks on the floor are testament to the throngs of people who’ve paved the shop’s floor. The wall of kendama for sale had noticeable empty spaces where beautiful handmade kendama had a transient place, before swiftly finding a new home.
Apart from the wall with kendama for sale, there is a wall of kendama you can borrow to play with in the cafe. They also have a large box of kendama for playing, outside on a picnic table.In order to play with the kendama you just have to buy a drink. They have kendama for left handed as well as right handed people. For a group of adults visiting everyone must buy a drink, but for a family you can just buy a couple of drinks if you aren’t staying too long. In fact, they say for the first visit you don’t have to buy anything at all.
It was quite busy when we visited so I didn’t feel comfortable not ordering anything so I got a coffee for myself and a soft drink for the kids to share. Please note that there aren’t many places to sit, most of the space is used for playing. There are only three two-seater tables and three seats at a counter. Apart from that there are shelves to hold drinks for those who are standing and playing. Outside there are two seats and one picnic table with benches. Considering you get to play indefinitely the drinks are quite reasonable; 500 yen for the first non-alcholic drink for an adult, 650 yen for alcohol and 350 yen for a child’s drink. Any subsequent drink you buy is cheaper. They have quite a good choice of drinks considering the type of place it is. Their food is very limited, basically just toast or a toasted sandwich.
The customers in the cafe were such a mixed bag. There were other families like us, as well as a father and teenage son pair, two adult friends, plus a number of older grade primary school boys and girls, and a couple of kids who seemed to be middle school age. I wasn’t sure how my younger kids would like it, but they really enjoyed it too. The two year old sat with me while I had my coffee, but she did play with a Doraemon motif kendama for quite sometime. The four year old, six year old and seven year old, played the whole time we were there. The six year old was quite taken with the kendama painted like Hello Kitty. The staff were very friendly and helpful. Two of them helped my kids learn some new tricks on the kendama while I relaxed over my coffee.
My seven year old son in particular learned quite a few new tricks and graded up in the short time we were there. The other Mother there was very friendly and all too happy to small talk with me. The older kids looked out for the younger kids. It struck me that this would be a really good place for short term visitors to Japan with children to introduce their kids to Japanese children their own age and enjoy each other’s company in the universal language of play!
After reading a number of articles online about the shop, it would seem that it is always busy. They organise tournaments and demo classes and even have English language events from time to time. I know my kids enjoyed it more than I had expected and we’ve already planned a trip back to play in the near future. I may even go with some girlfriends at night sometime and enjoy a few bevvies: it might improve my own skills which are currently severely lacking! Whether you are living in Kawagoe or visiting it, I can recommend this cafe / shop as “somewhere different” to visit. You can enjoy a traditional Japanese toy in a friendly and congenial environment.
History of Kendama
I subsequently found this interesting blog post on the history of kendama on another WordPress site:
Kendama Cafe Information and Access
Opening hours: Friday to Wednesday (closed Thursday) from 11 am to 9 pm.
There is one unisex toilet. There is an ashtray outside. No parking, but there is a space for bikes outside the shop.
Sulab, website and online shop
You can buy non-branded Kendama on Amazon (Affiliated link).
Sulab on Facebook
Sulab on Twitter
SU LAB is only a few minutes walk from JR Kawagoe Station, Tobu Tojo Kawagoe Station and Seibu Shinjuku Hon-Kawagoe Station.
From Ikebukuro it is only 31 minutes to Kawagoe on the Tobu Tojo Line. You can also get to Kawagoe direct from Shinjuku and Akabane in about 45 minutes.
Route and prices for getting to SU LAB in Kawagoe from Ikebukuro, Akabane and Shinjuku in Tokyo. From Hyperdia.com:
From Omiya it only takes 22 minutes to get to Kawagoe on the JR Kawagoe line. Fare and route from Hyperdia.com:
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