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Counting to meet culture at upcoming soroban competitions

Japan District
Tokyo, Japan | March 26, 2013

Approximately 80 students from Japanese schools located in Kanagawa Prefecture will participate alongside 90 DoDEA students from Arnn Elementary School, Byrd ES, Ikego ES, Lanham ES and The Sullivans ES. The students will compete in a variety of oral and written challenges to determine the overall champion and top performers in several categories.

Following the contest Thursday, all participating students will join in a special friendship building and cultural exchange activity using the traditional Japanese game Jan Ken Pon—similar to rock-paper-scissors.

The soroban is believed to have been first introduced to the Japanese via China and Korea around 1600 A.D., however, over the centuries the Japanese soroban has been modified for portability, advanced calculations and finger-friendly bead design geared toward quick and accurate counting. Although handheld calculators have been available for decades, the soroban remains popular today among many Japanese families with elementary-age children as a way to reinforce mathematics concepts taught at school.

Soroban contests for students attending DoD schools in Japan began over three decades ago and are sponsored by the Soroban League Educational Association of Japan in coordination with DoDEA Japan District Host Nation Program Coordinator Manami Mikami. 

“Soroban helps children better understand base tens and place values while simultaneously strengthening their concentration, patience and endurance,” according to Mikami, “The soroban contests and activities are unique because they provide a meaningful cultural connection between our students and Japanese children and educators.”

Beyond the exciting competition, each soroban contest also features an exemplary local Japanese student demonstrating startling mathematical ability by correctly calculating a complex and lengthy series of numbers flashed on a screen for only a fraction of a second in rapid-fire succession—no paper or soroban required as the student does everything in their head and delivers the answer instantly. Never failing to draw cheers from delighted spectators, these remarkable performances showcase the advanced mental computations made possible by higher-level soroban education.

Educational benefits of the soroban include improved conceptual math abilities, faster and more accurate calculations and increased student motivation. For a brief overview of the history and educational benefits of the soroban, please visit:

soroban Photo

TOKYO (May 31, 1983) Students from DoD schools in Japan compete in the inaugural Kantō Plain soroban contest at the National Education Center.

soroban photo

SASEBO, Japan (April 27, 2011) The soroban is for everyone as demonstrated by this impromptu lesson given to Commander of Fleet Activities Sasebo Capt. Francis Martin and Sasebo ES Principal Dr. Chris Racek.

About DoDEA Pacific:

The first organized schools for the children of U.S. military personnel serving in the Pacific were established in 1946 during post-World War II reconstruction. Throughout the decades, DoD schools evolved to become a comprehensive and high-performing K-12 school system solely dedicated to educating the children of America’s heroes. 

Today, DoDEA Pacific’s 49 schools serve over 23,500 children of U.S. military and eligible DoD civilian personnel families stationed throughout the Pacific theater. The DoDEA Pacific teaching, administrative and school support team includes more than 3,300 full-time professionals. The schools are geographically organized into four districts: Guam, Japan, Okinawa and South Korea.

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