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Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008

ALSO OUT THERE

Finessing the pen-twirl becomes a fine science


Staff writer

Unlike Tamagotchi or the Nintendo DS, the latest Japanese gadget does not bleep, comes without voice recognition system and will not connect to the Internet.

News photo
Masaki Tsukada of Pen-Spinning Association Japan shows off his technique with a Pen'z Gear pen during an interview last month at his office in Chuo Ward, Tokyo. JUN HONGO PHOTO

But for ¥500 and hours of dedicated practice, a Pen'z Gear pen, which goes on sale in late February, will come in handy when showing off one's pen-spinning techniques.

"The product was created for pen-spinning beginners. The adjustable weight of the pen and its designated length make it easy to handle in one's hands," said Masaki Tsukada, chairman of Pen Spinning Association Japan.

Pen'z Gear, manufactured by Tokyo-based toy maker Tomy Co. with PSAJ, weighs 15 grams and is 19 cm long. Longer and heavier than normal pens and with the center of gravity in the middle, the gadget was designed exclusively for adroit pen-twirlers.

The product comes with eight detachable 0.6-gram weights, allowing "any beginner to master some basic spinning skills within a couple of hours," Tsukada said.

The fine art of pen spinning, in which teenagers twirl pens and pencils between their fingers like batons, has been popular since the late 1970s, and it is not uncommon to see people twirling unconsciously as their attention is elsewhere.

It is not clear where pen-twirling originated, but similar movements have been popular in South Korea and the United States, according to Tsukada.

The Internet played a key role in launching the inaugural pen-spinning world tournament last February, and video footage from such events triggered an online boom.

The Internet community was inspired by mind-boggling twirls such as the ThumbAround — maneuvering a pen to rotate around one's thumb — and the FingerPass — which involves twirling a pen through the four fingers of one's hand.

Similarly captivated, Tsukada, a pen-spinner himself, gathered other online pen-spinning celebrities to establish PSAJ last July. The group has already gathered 800 members and plans to hold an inaugural national competition in March.

Tomy's Hisato Takaoka, in charge of marketing Pen'z Gear, said the pen-spinning boom has made PSAJ's board members "charismatic figures." Fans at events often form lines to get their autographs, he said, adding that his company approached PSAJ to seek advice on pen-spinning instructions and designs for Pen'z Gear.

PSAJ's Tsukada noted that practice makes perfect, and on occasion he twirls his pen five hours a day, trying to figure out an innovative combination of juggling.

Other board members of the association, who are mainly college students, said Pen'z Gear would make it easy for anyone to learn basic spinning techniques, while the sophisticated finger movements can even vitalize the brain.

But while the product will cost about five times more than a regular pen, members of the group as well as Tomy's Takaoka acknowledge its design and unique balance is not a perfect combination when it comes to memo-taking.

"Obviously, Pen'z Gear's performance as a regular pen was not prioritized when designing it," Tsukada said.

This is an occasional series focusing on hot topics, people, events and trends in today's Japan.


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