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A close up view of a sorobon, or abacus, used by DODDS students to calculate complex mathmatical equations. DODDS students learn the sorobon through the host nation program at elementary schools.
A close up view of a sorobon, or abacus, used by DODDS students to calculate complex mathmatical equations. DODDS students learn the sorobon through the host nation program at elementary schools. (Juliana Gittler / S&S)

TOKYO — About 100 Department of Defense Dependents Schools pupils from seven Kanto area elementary schools competed for tall trophies and math mastery bragging rights in a sorobon competition Tuesday at the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo. The students are in second through fifth grades.

Students use a sorobon, or abacus, to calculate complex math equations in seconds. Sorobon users assign an amount to beads and move them as markers. Students complete an oral and written section for the contest, sailing through additions and subtractions with the speed of a video game.

The contest is the DODDS’ 21st annual sorobon contest. There are also annual contests in Okinawa, Misawa and Korea.

Sorobon is an ancient skill developed in China, South Korea and Japan. It’s taught to DODDS students by host nation teachers as part of the Host Nation Program at the schools, said Takashi Suyama, intercultural coordinator for DODDS-Pacific.

“This is a terrific cultural experience for them,” said Bruce Derr, superintendent for the DODDS Japan District. “It’s good experience for their minds.”

Using the sorobon requires immense concentration and quick thinking, he said.

Prizes are awarded to the first three place-holders in each grade, but all participating students get parting gifts — and the satisfaction of having a skill their parents may not have mastered.

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