An old math tool for a new generation

A second-generation soroban teacher, Norie Ikoma, is delivering abacus training to Vancouverites seeking to improve their math skills and learn more about the computational method’s cultural roots.

Although the Japanese abacus, the soroban, is still a widely used tool for enhancing mental dexterity in Japan’s jukus, or special subject “cram” schools, it is relatively uncommon in the Canadian educational system. Having seen the superior math test scores of Japanese students in comparison to those of their global counterparts, local parents and educators are starting to incorporate the juku drills in after-school abacus classes.

The abacus evolved over time and space, reflecting cultural and societal needs. What started as maneuverable pebbles in sandboxes, to visualize summation, evolved to a computing tool used across different countries, often alongside sophisticated calculators. The Japanese soroban was imported from China some 450 years ago, and modified to increase speed over subsequent centuries.

Ancient tool develops multiple skills

Today, the soroban offers an immersive experience to its students; the clicking and sliding of the beads add auditory and visual stimuli to the already intimate tactile experience. In Vancouver, Norie Ikoma, a second-generation Japanese abacus teacher, has been teaching this tradition to an ever-growing number of students interested in improving their arithmetic skills.

“We teach people how to live without modern calculators and make quick mental calculations without them,” Ikoma explains. “We try to push students to reach their full potential.”

Ikoma opened the Ikoma Abacus Learning School in Vancouver when she noticed the lack of abacus training in the area. For the past 10 years, students at Ikoma Learning have been acquiring mental calculation skills, enhancing mental dexterity and attaining computational efficiency to improve exam results through their soroban training. However, Ikoma says the intangible benefits of building self-esteem and increasing focus levels are just as important.

“Students can expect improvement in their math grades but also the development of their brains and a boost in their confidence. After they acquire knowledge of the abacus they can help out the new or slow learners and develop leadership skills as well,” she says.

Beyond technical learning

Lee Brighton enrolled her children, nine-year-old Madison and seven-year-old Denver in Ikoma Abacus

Photo courtesy of Ikoma Abacus Learning

Photo courtesy of Ikoma Abacus Learning

Learning with the simple hope that their arithmetic skills would improve and aid them in their everyday lives. Although they are not at YouTube fame levels yet, Brighton has seen a great improvement in Madison’s and Denver’s math levels.

“My kids have improved dramatically. Although they are still not as fast as kids on TV, that will happen with time and continued work on learning the skills,” says Brighton.

Ikoma Abacus Learning has also sparked another interest for the Brightons: Japanese culture. From karate classes to at-home activities, the family is learning about various aspects of the country that brought them the soroban.

“We have enrolled our son in a karate club that focuses on the kids learning some Japanese culture and language; at home we are currently reading Japanese folk stories and bought a game that teaches the Japanese language,” Brighton says.

Instruction at Ikoma Abacus Learning is available in English and Japanese, and Ikoma emphasizes that students from all cultural backgrounds are welcome. Although the soroban inevitably evokes its cultural heritage, the classes are really focused on learning the techniques that will improve students’ math skills.

“There are a lot of Japanese students, but also there are quite a few students from other countries such as China, Korea, India and Canada,” says Ikoma.

Ikoma Abacus Learning offers classes in five locations across the Lower Mainland. The basic program consists of nine levels, which can be completed in three years or less.


For more information on Ikoma Abacus Learning, including class schedules and fees, please visit, or contact Norie Ikoma at or 778-233-7999.