Abacus counting: how to do calculations the Japanese way


If you have picked up an abacus from a thrift store and watched your toddler play with the beads, like I have, and wondered if that's all there is to it, read on.

Using an abacus ("soroban"), that ancient calculator of Asian cultures, you can add up, take away, do division and multiplication up to a billion. And it's really not complicated; all you need is a bit of time and concentration to get the basics down.

What I love about it is how it demonstrates how maths is more than numbers on a sheet of paper. There are so many different ways of getting to the correct answer because numbers work in patterns, and patterns are wild and wonderful things. Once you start thinking of numbers and groups of numbers in a more creative way, maths could become real fun!

Also read: Finger counting: how Indian kids can do complex mental maths using finger calculations

For a nice, basic introduction, Eddy Hood from Ignite Spot, and accountancy firm in Utah, takes us through the 1-2-3s of abacus calculations.

Got it? So this abacus has 10 coloured beads on an open rod. The more traditional abacus is switched onto its side and comprises columns of 7 wooden beads, with a wooden slat separating the top two beads from the five below. Once you've mastered this one, you could use the abacus with 4 beads below and 1 bead above the slat.

Here Pelle Lindblå explains how the 5+2 abacus works:

Melanie Hoffman further demonstrates multidigit additions:


If you get this, you may want to delve deeper.

If you're interested, there are some great further videotorials on YouTube. For inspiration, see how a class of Japanese school kids in action!

Do your kids use an abacus to do calculations? Where did they learn to do so? Do you think it's worth teaching kids? Share your comments with us at chatback@parent24.com and we may publish them.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
How do you feel about the impending replacement of the Eskom board?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Finally, time for Eskom's new dawn!
5% - 130 votes
It’ll be new faces, same problems
48% - 1375 votes
Great - as long as they keep CEO André de Ruyter
47% - 1361 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.