Posted by: softypapa | March 17, 2008

Antique Japan Abacus – Soroban Wooden Calculating Tool

Soroban Abacus Calculator Japan Japanese Nippon Nihon Tokaido Softypapa

Soroban Abacus Calculator Japan Japanese Nippon Nihon Tokaido Softypapa

Soroban Abacus Calculator Japan Japanese Nippon Nihon Tokaido Softypapa

Soroban Abacus Calculator Japan Japanese Nippon Nihon Tokaido Softypapa

Soroban Abacus Calculator Japan Japanese Nippon Nihon Tokaido Softypapa 


Old wooden Japanese abacus or soroban.  The bottom of the abacus is made of oak with boxwood beads and shaved bamboo bead shafts.  This particular soroban was probably manufactured between 1850 and 1930.  This date range can be inferred due to the number of beads it contains.  Soroban manufactured in Japan before 1850 included a 2/5 bead combination (2 beads on the upper deck and 5 beads on the lower deck).  The Japanese formally changed to a 1/5 style in 1850 and then finally a 1/4 style in 1930 when all of the Japanese school text books were revised.  This soroban has the 1/5 bead style. 

Due to it’s apparent age, this soroban was likely made exclusively with traditional Japanese hand tools instead of modern power tools.  Tools such as the nokogiri (Japanese pull saw) and kana (block plane) may have been used to carefully cut and shape each wooden part and to create the delicate and expert joinery which have held the abacus together all these years.  The abacus is in good condition with some wear and a layer of dust on the bottom beneath the beads.  Many modern Japanese still learn to use a soroban in school and some even prefer these ancient tools over modern electronic calculators.  My Japanese mother-in-law (last photo below) for instance uses her soroban when performing daily accounting work for the family business as well as in the preparation of her annual tax return!  However, when I showed her an old soroban like the one offered here she was unable to use it as her training had never included such an old fashioned bead count.  The soroban offered here is ready (with a little cleaning) to once again assist with mathematical calculations (that is if anyone can figure out how to use it), or perhaps to serve as a decorative accent in the home or office of someone who appreciates high quality, hand made Japanese woodcraft.

Length: 9.6 inches (24.5 centimeters)
Width: 3.7 inches (9.5 centimeters)
Weight: 8.7 ounces (248 grams)

Click here to see more soroban!
here to see additional treasures from Japan!

What exactly is an abacus?

How did people keep track of numbers before pen and paper were widely available?  How does addition and subtraction work if you don’t have a handy written form for your numbers?  Say you can’t read or write, but you can count – how do you add, subtract, multiply, or divide large numbers?  The answer to all these questions is . . . the abacus!

What is an abacus?  An abacus is a device used for addition and subtraction, and the related operations of multiplication and division. It does not require the use of pen and paper, and it’s good for any base number system. There are two basic forms for the abacus: a specially marked flat surface used with counters (counting table), or a frame with beads strung on wires (bead frame).

The bead frame form is what most people think of when they hear the word, “abacus”. There are 3 main forms of abacus in use today; the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Russian. All are composed of a rectangular frame with beads on vertical wires or bamboo dowel. The number of wires and beads vary, and there may or may not be a horizontal divider in the frame.

It cannot be proven, but the Chinese are often credited with the invention of the abacus. The abacus was a great invention in ancient China and has been called by some Western writers “the earliest calculating machine in the world.”  The Chinese abacus was brought into Japan around the 17th century.  It was studied by the Japanese mathematician Seki Kowa (1640 – 1708) and many refinements were made to the Chinese abacus, including removing one bead on each wire above and below the horizontal dividing bar. The transformation of the Chinese abacus into the modern Japanese form was completed during the early part of the 20th century.  This modern form has 4 beads below the horizontal divider, and only one bead on each wire above. It also usually has 21 columns.

item code: R1S4-0004460
ship code: G3



  1. Is this item for sale?

    • Hello Carol, Thank you for writing to ask about this soroban. I’m afraid that this soroban has indeed been sold and we are sadly currently out-of-stock of all soroban in our store. Here is our store URL if you wish to check back in the future:

      Thank you again for your inquiry regarding antique soroban. I’m sorry that we currently have none available. Sincerely, -Kurt Bell

  2. I would like to receive your posts .
    Thank you very much,

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