Popularity of the abacus rises as kids get back to basics

Kyodo News

The popularity of the abacus, now rarely used in the world of calculators, has recently been on the rise as many parents concerned about their children’s math ability have started sending them to abacus schools to develop their skills.

The number of applicants for the national abacus certification exam, which peaked at 2.04 million in 1980, slumped to a low of 180,000 in 2005. But since then, applications have been on the rise and hit 200,000 in 2008.

“(The recovery) coincided with the time when many parents started to worry about the academic performance of their children because of the (recent) relaxed style of education” at public schools, said Hiroshi Nakayama, managing director of the League of Japan Abacus Associations. The league organizes the certification exam.

“The value of the abacus has been reassessed because it can improve the calculating ability and concentration power of the user,” Nakayama said.

Books and video games to develop math ability and brain power have recently become popular with both adults and children.

Software to develop abacus skills using the Nintendo DS portable game machine has been selling well. Software maker Four Winds Inc. has sold 40,000 copies so far of two abacus training titles.

Sayoko Kuzuhara, 44, runs abacus schools for children in Chiba Prefecture. Her first school in Urayasu filled all its 100 places four years ago, and she opened a second school in April with 130 new students.

Her schools teach children not only the abacus but also math skills, Kuzuhara said.

“What parents want is for their children to improve their math performance at school,” she said.

“Learning the abacus will also help children pass the entrance exam (of a higher school) if they improve their thinking power and apply it” to other subjects, she said.