Abacus

The white halls, it’s all so bland, so boring. “Why are institutions of learning so boring?”, you wonder. “Or is it just the ones I visit? … How can anyone be eager for anything in this place?” You walk into the classroom. The desks are neatly organized in a grid pattern. The walls feature some art the students made, in an effort to brighten up the place. Surely it was to cultivate their creative skills. You get a group of random people. Have them create what they want. Put it on the walls. You don’t get the appeal of it. Or maybe that’s the whole point, the randomness of life in this one box. Not your type of art? Perhaps. You’re taken out of your mindless wonder by a sound that you remember from days long gone by. The sound of small wooden marbles hitting each other. Some singles, then a group of them. Back and forth. And it brings you back. You remember. You had this as a kid. Or at least a more childlike version of it, with lots of colors and larger beads. In the classroom you find several students calculating with abacuses. Do people still use the abacus these days?

The abacus, or soroban (算盤 そろばん), is a traditional manual calculator with an oblong frame which holds rows of wires along which beads are slid. It was introduced to Japan from China in the 16th century. By the middle of the 17th century it became central to the activities in finance and commerce. Abacus arithmetic, or shuzan (珠算 しゅざん) became integrated in education. In 1926 it was added to the official school curriculum. Even though electronic calculators are widespread, some people prefer to use their abacus, at home as well as at their job. There are special schools that teach it’s use. If so inclined, one could compete in championships. The high point of which is the All Japan Soroban Championship.

Further reading:

“Abacus” In: Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Kodansha.

The Guardian: World’s fastest number game wows spectators and scientists. http://www.theguardian.com/science/alexs-adventures-in-numberland/2012/oct/29/mathematics