What is Soroban?
Soroban is the Japanese abacus. It looks very similar to the Chinese Suanpan (which is to be expected since it was derived from the Suanpan when it was first introduced to Japan in the 1600s) except that instead of having two beads in the top part, it only has one.
What is Anzan?
Anzan is the Japanese method of doing Mental Math by using a mental image of an abacus. No physical abacus is used.
Soroban and Anzan have been part of the compulsory curriculum in Japan for many years until its modernisation and increased focus on the use of computers in daily life. During the Meiji Period, when Soroban was still actively taught in schools, the Japanese population showed strong skills in Math and Anzan. Since the decline in its teachings and the increase usage of technology, there have been concerns that the general population is losing valuable skills in the basic fundamentals of the thinking process. In 1989, the Japanese Ministry of Education reintroduced Soroban into the elementary school curriculum.
When I was in school, they were beginning to introduce calculators into Math classes. At that time, it was limited only to the senior students, while the junior students were still required to perform Mental Math. I remember an argument from the junior students regarding why we weren’t allowed to have calculators since they were so readily available anyway. The reason was that we needed to learn the basic fundamentals before we were entitled to the privileges of technology. I am inclined to agree with the Japanese Ministry of Education. We are becoming too reliant on technology to perform simple tasks for us.
Why use Soroban for teaching Anzan?
Simply put, it’s effective. It trumps the electric calculator in speed and accuracy:
On November 12, 1946, a contest was held in Tokyo between the Japanese soroban, used by Kiyoshi Matsuzaki, and an electric calculator, operated by US Army Private Thomas Nathan Wood. The bases for scoring in the contest were speed and accuracy of results in all four basic arithmetic operations and a problem which combines all four. The soroban won 4 to 1, with the electric calculator prevailing in multiplication.
How does Soroban help teach Anzan?
I’m not exactly sure right now, but I’ve bought a mini Soroban for Gavin (waiting for it to be delivered) and am looking around for suitable books or teaching programs to help teach him Soroban. I’ll let you know what I find out so watch this space!
Currently, as far as I am aware, they are teaching Soroban in Heguru through flash cards. The children have been taught to recognise numbers from 1 to 100 on the Soroban. I don’t know what else they plan to do with the Soroban, but I’ve decided to explore teaching Gavin Soroban and Anzan.
More in the next post but for now, let me inspire you with this video. Check out the Mental Math calculation – I don’t think I could calculate that fast with a calculator! And here’s another one on Brain Age – watch the increasing speed of calculation!
Learn more about Anzan/Soroban:
- SAI Speed Math Academy
- Japanese Abacus Use & Theory
- Japanese Abacus For Kids: A step-by-step guide to addition and subtraction using the Japanese abacus (Soroban)
- Learn to do Math With Soroban a Japanese Abacus: Learn how to add, subtract, multiply, divide and find square roots with this easy to use instruction guide.