“The way I understand special interests is they're kind of the framework by which I understand the world around me. They’re a little different from normal passions or hobbies, more intense…more all-encompassing.”


Kendama wall hanging

Image description: A wall hanging featuring an image of a kendama. This game has a red ball that is sitting on top of three intersecting cups that form a ‘T’ shape. The image of a kendama is set against a white background, with a textured purple border. In each corner of the border is a white triangle with a pink center, representing the Rice Ball character from the Fruits Basket manga.


For example, when this participant was learning to play kendama, a Japanese ball and cup game depicted in this wall hanging, they were also learning about the philosophy of kendama: Never rush; never panic, never give up. Practicing kendama helped them think of things in that way, they explained. “I could see myself improve little by little. No matter how impossible I thought a trick was, at first, I could always learn it. … Everywhere I went, I found a way to involve kendama. I literally carried it with me everywhere. It's just kind of that, you know, grounding, centering, and framing thing of how you just engage with the world. It's that thing that provides structure and always makes sense.”

Though kendama is a recent special interest, if this participant had to pick just one special interest from their life, it would be the manga series Fruits Basket. “I feel like [all my special interests] are connected in a way,” they said. Fruits Baskets led to special interests in Japanese psychology and culture, in relation to early childhood education and disability studies—some of their other special interests. This path led to them attending grad school in Japan, where they lived in Hiroshima—the birthplace of modern kendama.