2THE SOROBAN ABACUS HANDBOOK
so you can always just represent numbers 0-9 which is most useful for our purposes. The Japanese Sorobanhas been streamlined for the Hindu-Arabic number system and each rod can represent one of 10 differentnumbers (0-9) and has no wasted beads for our decimal calculations. Read on to discover how numbers arerepresented on the abacus frame.I have researched both types and studied different methods for performing operations on the board. I will try toinstruct and teach only the best methods that I have found. Generally, these are the methods described byTakashi Kojima in his excellent book "The Japanese Abacus – It's Use and Theory" published first in the1950's and later reprinted. I assume the reader wants to know the best prescribed procedures for learning howto use the abacus. I will try to take no shortcuts – and hope that this handbook serves as a fine introduction tothe marvelous world of the Abacus. One might ask why anyone should bother learning how to use the Abacuswith the advent of such cheap calculators. The answers will be different for everyone – but for me it was adesire to learn and understand this ancient skill and to become skilled myself with this fascinating tool. I alsofind the practice on the Soroban very relaxing – often helping me unwind after a day at work. I suppose it is asmuch a hobby as anything else. With practice and the help of this handbook, you can master the Abacus! If you don't have an instrument, you can find proven suggestions at the end of this handbook for tracking onedown or making one yourself!
USING THE ABACUS
on the abacus slide up and down on what we call
which are divided horizontally by a
(some call this the
). In general, the single row of beads above the reckoning bar (called"Heaven Beads") are worth 5. The beads below the reckoning bar (called "Earth Beads") are worth 1. A bead issaid to "have value" when it is pushed towards the middle reckoning bar and "loses value" when moved awayfrom the middle reckoning bar. Forming a number on the abacus is very simple – simply move a bead towardsthe reckoning bar for it to "have value". Let's look at this virtual abacus frame and "read" the number. Since no beads are touching the middle reckoning bar, we read a number of 0 all the way across the abacus.This is a "cleared" frame and it is how you normally start every math problem (similar to a reset on a moderncalculator). To clear a Soroban – you simply tilt it towards you so that all the beads are pulled by gravitytowards the bottom of the frame (this clears the lower beads only!) and then level the instrument again andmake a sweeping motion of your index finger between the reckoning bar and the upper row of beads – this willcause them to "push" upwards away from the reckoning bar. It's almost as if you were splitting the beads fromthe reckoning bar with a parting sweep of your finger. You could just move them up individually with a flick of your index finger – but the sweeping method from left to right is very fast and efficient once you get the hang of it.Notice the little dots on the reckoning bar. We use these dots on every third column to designate a "unit" rod.You should place your number so that the unit portion falls on this rod (for example ,in the number 1234 thevalue 4 is the "units", 3 is the "tens", 2 is the "hundreds", etc). Use rods to the right of this unit rod as tenths,hundredths, and rods to the left as tens, hundreds, thousands (which also has a unit dot – very convenient!). Itdoesn't matter which dot you choose to be the unit rod – so long as it is marked with a dot for easy reference.Numbers can be formed on the abacus anywhere you want – and with some problems (like multiplication anddivision) there will be two or three sets of numbers on the abacus frame. Do not think of the dot as a decimalpoint – that might get confusing as to whether that rod is representing the value just before the decimal point or just after it. It is a unit rod – and rods to the right have a factor of 10 less value and rods to the left have a factor of 10 more. For example, lets assume in the diagram above we chose E as our unit rod. We would then have: