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Six students from nearby Japanese soroban schools display their answers to students and faculty at Joan K. Mendel Elementary School, Yokota Air Base, Japan, during a soroban demonstration Friday. Soroban, a Japanese style of abacus, allows a skilled user to perform large calculations in only a few seconds.
Six students from nearby Japanese soroban schools display their answers to students and faculty at Joan K. Mendel Elementary School, Yokota Air Base, Japan, during a soroban demonstration Friday. Soroban, a Japanese style of abacus, allows a skilled user to perform large calculations in only a few seconds. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)
Six students from nearby Japanese soroban schools display their answers to students and faculty at Joan K. Mendel Elementary School, Yokota Air Base, Japan, during a soroban demonstration Friday. Soroban, a Japanese style of abacus, allows a skilled user to perform large calculations in only a few seconds.
Six students from nearby Japanese soroban schools display their answers to students and faculty at Joan K. Mendel Elementary School, Yokota Air Base, Japan, during a soroban demonstration Friday. Soroban, a Japanese style of abacus, allows a skilled user to perform large calculations in only a few seconds. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)
Students at Joan K. Mendel Elementary School at Yokota Air Base, Japan, use sorobans, or Japanese abacuses, to solve math problems during a demonstration Friday.
Students at Joan K. Mendel Elementary School at Yokota Air Base, Japan, use sorobans, or Japanese abacuses, to solve math problems during a demonstration Friday. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Joan K. Mendel Elementary School students saw a centuries-old Japanese method of calculating during a soroban demonstration Friday.

A soroban is a Japanese abacus that lets skilled users make lightning-quick calculations of large groups of numbers with speeds that rival an electronic calculator.

The soroban was common in Japan for centuries, but today many Japanese students learn to use it only at specialized schools, said Noriko Shirasu, the host nation teacher at Mendel. Students there and at other elementary schools in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools Japan system are also taught how to use the counting tool, and a competition testing their skills is held every year at the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo.

Friday’s demonstration at Mendel had six students from nearby Japanese soroban schools demonstrating their rapid adding and subtracting skills.

Shirasu said she thinks that counting the beads on a soroban allows the students to better visualize what the numbers are worth and to better picture the numbers.

"It’s a lot easier to look at a soroban than using a pencil and paper," she said.

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