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The Abacus

June 20, 2008

Has anyone ever used one? Like, seriously?

I remember I have played around with them before, but I never quite understood them. They always seemed to me kind of like counting on your fingers, if you had lots of fingers. Things like adding and subtracting might be OK, but how division and multiplication worked I had no idea.

Well, it turns out, randomly, that one of my students is an ace with an abacus. She has a Level 10 Proficiency Certification on abacus use. I’m amazed. I didn’t even know they taught that kind of thing anymore! Along with the advent of the calculator, I assumed abacus use was one of things that fell into the abyss of time, like the penny farthing, gramaphones, rotary telephones, and a general sense of social decency in the world. But it turns out that abacus tuition is alive and well, at least in Kyoto if nowhere else.

This girl has lightning fast speed to calculate insanely large sums, which a coworker was struggling to beat by using a calculator.

Here she is, working out 908, 023, 788 divided by 12,087. (how do you make a “divided by” mark on the computer?)

Remember in school, you’d enter an exam and one of the rules would be, “no electronic calculators permitted”? Well, I asked her if the abacus was allowed, and she said it didn’t matter, she didn’t really need it anyway. She retains the memory of the abacus in her fingertips, like some kind of freaky “ghost” abacus.

Pretty impressive.

Word of the Day算盤soroban – abacus

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