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Japanese Abacus

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Development of Japanese Abacus


It was on the mid-fifteen century that suanpan and the methods of using it first made its appearance to Japan. Suanpan was exported from China to Japan through passing the Korean Peninsula. The suanpan was modified. The large-sized Chinese abacus was changed to a smaller-sized abacus. Japanese abacus is properly termed as soroban.

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Structure of Japanese Abacus


Soroban is a modification of the Chinese’s abacus suanpan. A few of these modifications are: first, elimination of one bead located on the upper deck; second, elimination of another bead located on the lower deck in each column of the abacus; and third, elimination of the use of a Chinese division table which is Quichu.


Soroban is consists of 13 rods. Each rod has five beads each: four beads, termed as earth beads, for each bead it has the value of one. The other bead, termed as heavenly bead, has the value of five. Each rod which consists of five beads is separated by a bar called reckoning bar. Often times the standard number of rods is an odd number and it should not go less than nine.


The material used in the beads and the rods vary from wood mixed with wood, rattan, bamboo or metal rods in order for the beads to slide along them. It has been a practice to use wood for the beads and the shape is bi-conal which looked like a double-cone.


The feature that is unique in soroban is that in every third rod it contains a dot marking. These rods with dot marking are called unit rods these are used to indicate the last digit of the whole number which is part of the calculation process.


The number that is indicated on the rods on the right side of the soroban forms part of the answer which is decimal, except of course if the number forms part of calculating for division or multiplication. The unit rods which are on the left side helps in place value which indicate the number in groups like thousands and millions.


Computation using Japanese Abacus


Since soroban is a modification of the suanpan of China, basically they have the same method or techniques in adding or subtracting numbers. This is done through the use of complementary number in order to either add or subtract and then carry over ten.


For multiplication and division, there are a lot of methods used. However, there were standard methods that were introduced for calculating numbers that involves multiplication and division. These standard methods were recommended by an authority in Japan called Japan Abacus Committee. The methods were introduced to aid the operators of the soroban for fast calculating and efficiency as well.


Counting using the soroban is usually done through pushing the beads against the crossbar. To know the value of each bead it is usually determined by the rod that the bead rides on. The beads on the first right rod count as 1 and then 10, next is 100 and so on. The bar above the of the soroban the values of the beads are determined from right towards left these are in this order 5, 50,500 and 5000.


Japanese Abacus in the Modern Age


Soroban has a lot of unique advantages in this modern age which has been considered to be a valuable calculating tool.


It has been proven that teaching children how to use it helps them to develop their learning skills as well as increasing the powers of calculating mentally. Studying Soroban will enhance the processing of logical thought and the concentration flow of the human mind.


Japan maintains the value of using soroban even up to this date; this is done by given licenses to soroban users which can be obtained through passing an examination conducted by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. There is a privilege given to soroban users who will take the exam. If they pass and obtain to the least a third-grade license then that would qualify for such soroban user to have a job and work for a public corporation.


Even in schools soroban plays an important role in teaching and is part of the lesson taught in mathematics. This is very effective since the decimal numerical system can be properly explained to the students. It serves as a visual aid for the teachers as well in teaching lessons that involved decimal numeral system.


Soroban also serves as one of the basis in developing an abacus that will aid the blind people in calculations different arithmetic processes such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. 

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An expert using soroban, it can even be used a tool to calculate even the difficult advanced math problems or calculations. However, it is as useful for beginners who are in basic mathematics education.



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