All About The Abacus

Introduction All About It More Information
History Additional Info Types of Abaci Abacus vs. Calculator


The origins of the usage of the abacus dates back all the way to Mesopotamia in 2700 BC. Then, it started appearing in other places because people saw they needed an efficient way of calculating numbers. In Asia, the Chinese Abacus was developed. The Chinese Abacus is probably the most famous world-wide, and is mainly used by Asian merchants and traders to calculate their good's prices. From China, the abacus spreaded to Japan, where a very efficient abacus was created: the Soroban. Today, the Soroban is taught widely mainly because of the effectiveness in not only caculation, but in training the brain to concentrate as well. In Europe, the Greek and Roman abacus were developed, and following this, the Russian Abacus in Russia. Originially, the abaci were all made of wood with stones making up the beads. It is amazing how people from all over the world developed similar devices which consists of beads that represents numbers. Arguable, the abacus is the ancestor of the modern calculator.

Additional Information

You may be confused at how the abacus works. Although the purpose of this website is not to teach you how to use one, I have provided an attached PDF file which contains a basic guide on using a Japanese Abacus. Be warned, however, that this guide may be confusing. I have created this guide a while back, and to add to this, the abacus is a very hard device to teach. Purchasing a cheap Japanese Abacus would help you visualize what I am talking about in the guide, but will probably not help you greatly.

How To Use The Japanese Abacus Part 1
How To Use The Japanese Abacus Part 2
How To Use The Japanese Abacus Part 3

Types of Abaci

There are many different types of abaci in the world because of the many different cultures. Below is a list of the major types of abaci rated by popularity in the world. Furthermore, included below the list is a table organizing the popular abaci's amount of beads on the top row and the bottom row, or if there is no horizontal separator (see introduction), then the table includes how many beads are present on one row of the abacus.

Popular Abaci

  1. School Abacus
  2. Chinese Abacus
  3. Japanese Abacus
  4. Russian Abacus
Type of Abacus Number of Beads on Top Row Number of Beads on Bottom Row Number of Beads on One Row
School Abacus ------ ------ 10
Chinese Abacus 2 5 ------
Japanese Abacus 1 4 ------
Russian ------ ------ 10 and 4 (depends)

Abacus vs. Calculator

Many debate the speed at which one can perform a calculation using the abacus. Some say that an abacus stands no chance again a calculator when it comes to simple operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. However, I confidently can tell you that when performing certain operations, the abacus can be the definite victor. Below are tables comparing an abacus' and a calculator's speed of completion when performing certain types of calculations. These calculations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) are organized into three tables by difficulty. NOTE: The table only compares the Japanese Abacus with a generic calculator due to my sole experience. Other abaci may vary in calculation speed, and as such, I encourage you to learn them as well! Also, these times are also the result of MY calculations, and will vary from person to person. Moreover, I used mental abacus instead of the physical abacus itself, since for these types of calculations, I did not need to use one. However, I would not consider this cheating, because mental abacus is still using the techniques of an abacus.

"Abacus vs. Calculator" Key

Text/Color Meaning
"D" digit
"#R" number of rows
#D number of digits
"x" multiplication
"/" division
"+" addition
red winner in that category
Simple Operations
Operation Japanese Abacus Generic Calculator
2Dx2D Calculation 02:30s 03:63s
4D/2D Calculation 02:79s 03:98s
2D+10R Calculation 05:10s 11:73s
Medium-Level Operations
Operation (Digits) Japanese Abacus Generic Calculator
3Dx3D Calculation 05:30s 04:89s
6D/3D Calculation 05:03s 05:03s
3D+12R Calculation 09:57s 19:90s
Hard-Level Operations
Operation (Digits) Japanese Abacus Generic Calculator
4Dx4D Calculation 10:13s 07:26s
8D/4D Calculation 07:40s 06:10s
5D+10R Calculation 13:80s 20.74s

Experiment Conclusion

The abacus triumphs the calculator at simple multiplication and division, and always at addition. However, the calculator is best at harder multiplication and division problems.