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Counting to meet culture at upcoming soroban competitions

For Immediate Release — March 26, 2013 | Pacific
: Public Affairs Officer | DSN: 644-5657  |  Cell: +81-(0)80-2703-0632

March 26, 2013 — A symphony of sighs, gasps, cheers and clicking and zipping beads will fill the room as the kickoff event for annual soroban competitions gets underway 10 a.m. Thursday at the Sagamihara Shimin Kaikan (Sagamihara Civic Hall) located in the outskirts of Tokyo near U.S. Army Garrison Camp Zama and Naval Air Facility Atsugi.

Soroban is the Japanese word for abacus—a counting device with origins dating back six millennia and still used in many Asian countries. Although several contests are held across mainland Japan and Okinawa each year for DoDEA Pacific students, the upcoming event at Sagamihara is the only one that features joint competition with Japanese students.

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.

The table below provides information about each of the upcoming contests:






NOTE: All events listed below will take place within mainland Japan or Okinawa. Times listed with an asterisk* indicate these times are not yet finalized; please contact the POC to confirm final event times.

28 March


Contact school for
location information

Manami Mikami

DSN: 225-1646
Mobile: 080-4130-1580

17 April


Harbor View Club

Megumi Fukui

DSN: 252-8800
COMM: 0956-50-8800

29 April


Surfside Club at Camp Kinser

Mike Schoebinger
or Hiro Masashiro

DSN: 634-1204
COMM: 098-961-1204

15 May


Kantō Plain:
U.S. Naval Joint Services Activity - The New Sanno

Manami Mikami

DSN: 225-1646
Mobile: 080-4130-1580

29 May


Misawa Civic Center

Masumi Kumagai

DSN: 226-2647
COMM: 0176-77-2647

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 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 photo 1
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 2
TOKYO (May 22, 2002) During annual competitions in mainland 
Japan and Okinawa, students from DoD schools compete for 
impressive trophies and plaques courtesy of the Soroban League 
Educational Association of Japan. During this contest hosted at 
the New Sanno—a U.S. Naval Joint Services Activity located in 
downtown Tokyo—former DoDEA Japan District Superintendent Mike 
Diekmann welcomes and encourages students to do their very best 
during the fast-paced competition.

soroban photo 3
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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DoDEA Pacific Public Affairs

Unit 35007
APO, AP 96376
DSN: 315-644-5657
From the States: 011-81-6117-44-5657

The initiates and manages DoDEA's communications and outreach efforts for the Pacific to include Guam, Japan, Okinawa, South Korea. The office is responsible for media relations, internal information programs and communication with students, parents, teachers, school administrators and the public.