If you’ve ever played with a yo-yo, you may know that it’s all in the swing. A typical yo-yo looks deceptively simple — it’s made up of two discs and a long string but in the right hands, it can keep moving for hours and pull off some jaw-dropping feats. Internationally, yo-yos comprise a multimillion-dollar market, with yo-yo competitions drawing countless spectators.
Yo-yos can also become a career, as they have for 24-year-old Shu Takada, who has won six world championships. Takada has been wielding yo-yos since early childhood and says that his love for the little rotating devices links up to his love for English and the outside world.
“The yo-yo has opened many doors for me,” Takada explains. “My desire to go overseas and communicate in English, make friends and expand my world — all came from performing yo-yos.”
Takada says that he has always loved English and his grades in junior high school were normally among the top five in his class.
Takada picked up the language on social media, and still finds chatting with his overseas friends to be the best and most effective method of studying.
Did Takada find school English to be different from conversing with his yo-yo buddies? “Yes, I recognized the differences right away,” he said. “But I would take what I learned at school and ask my friends in the U.S. about a turn of phrase or a grammar structure. It’s the best of both worlds — I could learn English at the same time that I talk to my pals.”
To this day, Takada feels that the English taught in Japanese schools is a bit forced and “artificial,” since he has never heard anyone overseas talk to each other like the way they do in textbooks. On the other hand, he understands that basic grammar skills are imperative when it comes to writing in English or talking in long, explanatory sentences.
“I have a friend in Portland who I talk to a few times a week, and those sessions were one of the things that got me through the COVID-19 stay-home period. I would ask him questions about English, like ‘What’s the difference between the words learn, realize and figure out?’ and he would explain the nuances to me. It’s a great way to maintain English skills.”
Takada says that top yo-yo players are usually ace communicators and that even applies to the shy Japanese. “Japanese yo-yo performers are among the top ranked in the world and they’re incredibly popular with the fans. We get a lot of requests to pose for photos and sign autographs, and in the process, we get better at talking to people in English. I hear from my fellow Japanese performers that most of them use social media for studying. We have that in common.”
Takada himself is a natural extrovert who loves being abroad and meeting new people. He’s still enthralled by his first international competition, which was held in Florida when he was 12 years old.
“I loved everything about the experience. I had a U.S. sponsor at the time, so a lot of people already knew who I was and they were very friendly. They would come up to me and start talking and I wished from the bottom of my heart that I could do the same. But all I could do was smile, say hi and smile some more. Inwardly, I vowed to study English and become a performer who would be at ease in these situations.”
Now, Takada has no trouble carrying on a conversation in English but he has set his sights higher. “I want to be able to tell the world that yo-yos are cool, and inspire kids to take them up. To this end, I’m really waiting for the international competitions to begin again. Next year, the World Yo-Yo Contest will be held in Budapest. I can’t wait to be there.” (Kaori Shoji)
Words to live by
高田柊 （たかだ しゅう）
1996年生まれ。静岡県出身。小学校１年の時にヨーヨーを始め、14歳でワールドヨーヨーコンテストに出場。2012年、最も得意とする2A 部門で世界チャンピオンになる。米「ヨーヨーファクトリー」社とスポンサー契約し、SHUTAKADA モデルのヨーヨーを世界20 ヵ国以上で販売中。