The soroban thrives in the modern age as math competitions heat up

The soroban thrives in the modern age as math competitions heat up

by Charly Hoff, U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity - Pacific
Stripes Okinawa

TOKYO — An exciting atmosphere marked by the sounds of clicking and zipping beads will be the setting for three upcoming soroban competitions scheduled across mainland Japan and Okinawa. Soroban is the Japanese word for abacus—a counting device with origins dating back six millennia and still used today in many Asian countries.

Department of Defense Education Activity Pacific students will compete in a variety of oral and written challenges to determine the overall champion and top performers in several categories.

The three upcoming competitions round out two previous contests held earlier this year in Yokosuka and Sasebo, Japan. The American and Japanese Children's Soroban Contest hosted at Yokosuka was the only event where DoDEA and Japanese students compete directly and included a special cultural exchange activity. Nearly 100 students from nearby Japanese schools participated alongside 77 DoDEA students from four DoD schools located in Kanagawa prefecture.

Participation in the three remaining contests is limited to DoDEA students and includes special demonstrations by selected Japanese students and educators. However, each event is open to interested spectators and media representatives with base access. International and Japanese media representatives with an interest in covering any of the following events should call: 0425-52-2511 (ext.) 51646 or send an email to to arrange base access in advance:

Date: April 29 from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m.
Location: Surfside Ball room on Camp Kinser
Itsuko McNeil-Taira and Yukari Oshiro (Bob Hope Primary School), 634-0093
Mike Schoebinger (Okinawa District Superintendents Office), DSN: 634-1204

Kanto Plain:
Date: May 21 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Location: New Sanno Hotel
POC: Manami Mikami (DoDEA Japan District Superintendents Office), DSN: 225-3940 or commercial: 0425-52-2510 (ext.) 51646

Date: May 28 from 9:15 to 11:30 a.m.
Location: Misawa Civic Hall
Kazunori Kumagai (Sollars Elementary School), DSN: 226-3933

Soroban contests for students attending DoD schools in Japan began over three decades ago and are sponsored by the Soroban League Educational Association of Japan in coordination with the DoDEA Japan and Okinawa District Superintendents Offices.

“Soroban helps children better understand base tens and place values while simultaneously strengthening their concentration, patience and endurance,” according to DoDEA Pacific Host Nation Program Coordinator Manami Mikami, “The soroban contests and activities are unique because they provide a meaningful cultural connection between our students and Japanese children and educators.”

The soroban is believed to have been first introduced to the Japanese via China and Korea around 1600 A.D., however, over the centuries the Japanese soroban has been modified for portability, advanced calculations and finger-friendly bead design geared toward quick and accurate counting. Although handheld calculators have been available for decades, the soroban remains popular today among many Japanese families with elementary-age children as a way to reinforce mathematics concepts taught at school.

Beyond the exciting competition, each soroban contest also features an exemplary local Japanese student demonstrating startling mathematical ability by correctly calculating a complex and lengthy series of numbers flashed on a screen for only a fraction of a second in rapid-fire succession—no paper or soroban required as the student does everything in their head and delivers the answer instantly. Never failing to draw cheers from delighted spectators, these remarkable performances showcase the advanced mental computations made possible by higher-level soroban education.

Educational benefits of the soroban include improved conceptual math abilities, faster and more accurate calculations and increased student motivation. For a brief overview of the history and educational benefits of the soroban, please visit:

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