Abacus History

Japanese Abacus History

Japanese Abacus

A little past by the middle of the 15th century, the Chinese Abacus and its operational techniques were introduced to Japan. Mathematician’s constant and diligent study developed a distinct Japanese method of Abacus operation different from original Chinese method. The large-sized Chinese Abacus was improved into a handier smaller-sized one.

In 1938, the technique of the Japanese abacus operation was included in the national grade schools textbooks on arithmetic compiled by education ministry. Today, the Japanese abacus technique is a required study in the third and upper grades.

The Japanese abacus with one five unit counter and four one unit counters on each rod is the standard nowadays. It should be noted that older division method, which made use of the cumbersome division table, was formerly replaced by the Japanese method, which make use of the multiplication table.

The inclusion of the Abacus technique in the curriculum of Japanese compulsory education and the enforcement of the Abacus efficiency test system since its inception in 1928 have been two major factors which have led to the present popularity of Abacus in Japan.

Japanese Abacus Vs Chinese Abacus

The modern Chinese abacus has been in use since about the 14thcentury. The Japanese Soroban has been in use since at least the 16th century. There are some key differences between the two types of instruments. The Chinese abacus instrument has two beads above the reckoning bar and five beads below it, were as Japanese soroban have one bead above the reckoning bar and four below it.

Originally the Japanese soroban looked much like the Chinese Abacus (5 beads below, 2 beads above) but it was simplified around 1850 and reduced to a single bead above the reckoning bar and later in 1930 to just 4beads below it. It doesn't matter which type you use both have the same procedure for recording numbers and performing addition, subtraction,multiplication and division.

The Chinese abacus is capable of counting 16 different numbers from 0 to 15 on each individual rod which was useful since their units of weight were (are?)measured in 16ths. For westerners – this is not very useful unless you want to do calculations in 16ths of an inch or maybe hexadecimal The Japanese Soroban has been streamlined for the Hindu-Arabic number system and each rod can represent one of 10 different numbers (0-9) and has no wasted beads for our decimal calculations.

Abaci are still in use today. They have been invaluable for many visually impaired individuals, as teaching number placement value and calculations can be done by feel. Merchants and bankers in various parts of the world still depend on an abacus for their day-to-day business. And as recently as 25 years ago (1979), the Chinese Abacus Association was founded. They established a graded examination in 1984, and started competitions in 1989.Areas without electricity, or inconsistent power, benefit from an abacus. And as an arithmetic teaching tool, it has been of immense value. In fact Forbes.com ranks the abacus as the second most important tool of all time. Many parts of the world teach abacus use starting as early as pre-kindergarten. It is felt by many that learning abacus strengthens the student's sense of number placement value and helps to further a better overall understanding of numbers.It's also a lot of fun.

More Links: Japanese Soroban


The soroban ( 算盤, そろばん ? , counting tray) is an abacus developed in Japan . It is derived from the Chinese suanpan , imported to Japan around 1600. Like the suanpan, the soroban is still used today, despite the proliferation of practical and affordable pocket electronic calculators .


This website provides virtual soroban for practice There are 2 ways to enter a number in the virtual soroban: Using the keyboard, enter the number in the field above. Press the "Update" button when done. The soroban will update to display the number you entered. Move the beads by pointing with your mouse and clicking the left button. The number will update automatically.


This website provides interactive soroban for practice The Japanese termed the abacus a soroban . Originally the soroban looked very much like its Chinese cousin having two beads above the reckoning bar and five beads below. Around 1850, it was modified to have only one bead above the reckoning bar while maintaining the five beads below. It was further changed by removing one lower bead in 1930. This one bead above and four beads below ( 1/4 ) arrangement remains as the present day Japanese soroban construction.