A Revival! Even Countries Overseas Show an Interest
The abacus has long been a favorite among the Japanese as one of life's daily essentials. However the past few decades have seen a sudden decline in the places where it is used, as the role of the abacus has been usurped by electronic calculators and computers. The number of people taking exams in abacus techniques fell from 2.04 million in 1980 to less than a tenth of that number in 2005.
However, there was soon a chance for a "revival." In 2002, a certain elementary school found that introducing 5 years of abacus training in the curriculum of grades 2 to 6 students not only improved academic achievement in math, but in other subjects too. Newspapers etc., featured the view that "Studying the abacus improves your powers of concentration," leading to an increase in abacus classes in elementary schools across Japan; and a new abacus boom sprang up.
|Hungary introduced the abacus into its math classes at elementary school around 20 years ago (Photo courtesy of Tomoe Soroban Co., Ltd)|
There have been reports on the findings of studies into the different effects of abacus learning on more active functioning of the brain, such as enhanced powers of memory and increased levels of creativity and concentration. Currently, the abacus has been exported from Japan to around 50 countries, and some 20 of these, like Hungary, have introduced the abacus into their school education. Abacus exams have also spread from Asia and the West initially, to countries in South America.
A Design Unique in the Entire World!
As well as being easy to use, with beads that slide smoothly, abaci made by Japanese craftsmen are very robust. There are even some children who are still carefully using old abaci that were used by their parents or grandparents, rather than buying new ones.
|Japanese abaci, hand-made by craftsmen (Photo courtesy of DAIICHI CO., LTD)|
This kind of culture that values the use of old abaci is also important, but wouldn't it be fun to have an abacus that was unique in the entire world? There is a shop called "Soroban (abacus) Village" in Ono City, Hyogo Prefecture, the city that produces the most abaci in Japan, where you can choose the frame's material and the color of the beads yourself to create an original. The shop also provides an internet order service, and so increasing numbers of children throughout the whole of Japan can have their very own, unique abacus.
|Hands-on abacus making at Soroban Village (Photo courtesy of DAIICHI CO. LTD)||“My Abacus” – you can make it up with your own choice of colored components (Photo courtesy of DAIICHI CO. LTD)|
“Voice Abacus” reads out the numbers for you, as you move the beads. (Photo courtesy of DAIICHI CO. LTD)
In addition, there is a new type of abacus with a unique twist. The "Voice Abacus" was released in 2013; it has the ability to automatically read out the numbers as you move the beads, and is easy to use for people who have problems with their sight and hearing. It has the ability to read out not only in Japanese, but in English too.
Abacus software developed for game consoles and smart-phones is also popular with adults who want to take advantage of the abacus as a tool to train the brain.
It seems that study of the abacus will continue to be popular for a long time to come, as it not only lets you enjoy studying math, but also trains you to develop new abilities.