Today's students compete using ancient skills

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Soo C. Kim
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
"Add 6, add 9, subtract 10..."

As the announcer read off his numbers, all that could be heard in the large hall was the sound of wooden abacus beads tapping and the scribbling of pencils from students rushing to find a solution.

The event was the 31st Kanto Plains Department of Defense School Soroban Contest held at the New Sanno Hotel, May 16.

The contest challenged elementary and middle school students from DOD schools throughout the Kanto Region to use the soroban, an ancient Japanese abacus, to solve adding and subtracting problems.

"This contest is to see the skills the children learned in their Soroban classes," said Kiyomi Uehara, a host nation culture teacher at Yokota West Elementary School. "It is their chance to shine and be recognized for their achievement while having fun and receiving awards."

According to Uehara, the soroban lost its popularity in modern day, but American students are taught how to proficiently use the soroban during their culture class.

Among the guests was Mr. Yoshio Yamaguchi, the vice president of the Soroban League Educational Association, who watched as American students employed their soroban skills.

"(The contest) started 31 years ago," Yamaguchi said. "We couldn't imagine that the American students would use soroban as a tool to calculate. This is great."

Uehara also shared how much she enjoys teaching Japanese culture to the American students.

"In Japan, soroban is a dying culture, but American students are taking a great interest and learning," she said. "It is nice and it feels like an accomplishment to see our culture spread further."

Practicing soroban means more than just learning about Japanese culture. Yamaguchi said there are many benefits gained from using a soroban.

"[It builds] concentration and mental calculation," he said. "It teaches patience and endurance, and of course, being rewarded by advancing in Soroban skill levels."

Kate Yamauchi, 14, a student at Zama American Middle School, received the highest score for this year's contest.

"I like to use the soroban. I don't use it often, but I enjoy using it," Yamauchi said. "I prefer using the soroban instead of a normal calculator because it helps my mental calculation."

Yamauchi and students like her throughout the Kanto Region are not only learning Japanese culture, but keeping it alive through soroban practice.