Friday, October 18, 2013

The Soroban

I remember way back when I was in elementary school I learned about the abacus and that it was a tool of ancient civilizations used to do math functions. I couldn't understand how it could be used in such a manner. It just seemed like a toy with colorful beads to me. 

I was taken by surprise the other day at the pre-school I teach English at.  One of the secretaries was doing some accounting work and she pulled out an abacus from her drawer for doing calculations. "An abacus?",  I thought. Did she lose her calculator? Doesn't she even have a smartphone? This is JAPAN...the land of robots, bullet trains, and the abacus?

In Japan, an abacus is called a soroban. In previous generations, its use was taught in schools, but now it is mostly only taught by private tutors or schools. I had a 5 year-old English student once whose mother took her to classes to learn how to use it. It is said that using the soroban helps one to have anzan, or the ability to do math in your head.

When I questioned the secretary about the soroban, she explained to me that while multiplication and division can be done on an abacus, basic arithmetic can be done faster than using a modern calculator. So, I thought it would be fun to challenge her to a contest to see who would be faster; me with my calculator vs. her and her soroban. 


No comments: