Counting Around the World: The Abacus in Different Cultures


Counting is a basic human skill that people have used for thousands of years to make sense of the world around them. Today, we have so many tools to help us count, such as calculators, computers, and smartphones. But in the past, people used all kinds of devices to make counting easier. One of the oldest and most interesting counting tools is the abacus, which has been used in many cultures around the world for centuries.

What is an Abacus?

An abacus is a simple tool made of beads or stones strung on a rod or wire. It’s used for counting and performing basic math operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The abacus is usually used by sliding the beads back and forth across the wires to represent numbers.

Different Types of Abacus

There are many different types of abacus used in different parts of the world. The most common form of abacus is the Japanese Abacus, also known as the Soroban. This type of abacus has a rectangular frame divided into two parts with vertical rods that hold the counting beads. It has 1-4 beads on the upper decks, and 1-5 beads on the lower decks.

Another type of abacus known as the Chinese abacus, has a rectangular frame with two beads on the upper deck, and five beads on the bottom deck. Similarly, the Russian Abacus also known as the Schoty has ten rods all made of wood, with ten beads on each wire. This type of abacus is ideal for larger calculations.

There are also other types of abacus used in other parts of the world, such as the Indian counting board, which is made of wood or metal, and has beads or stones threaded on wires or cords.

How Different Cultures Use Abacus

The abacus is thought to have been first used in ancient times, and has since been used in many cultures around the world, including Asia, Europe, and Africa.

Abacus in China

The abacus has been used in China for over a thousand years. It is often used by merchants, traders, and accountants to keep track of their finances, and instructors to teach children math. There are many Chinese schools that teach abacus-based mental arithmetic, where young children learn the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division on the abacus.

Abacus in Japan

The Japanese Abacus, also known as Soroban, has been used in Japan for over 400 years. It is an important part of Japanese culture and is often used in schools to teach basic math. Japanese merchants and traders also use the Soroban to keep track of their finances.

Abacus in Russia

The Russian Abacus, also known as the Schoty or Stchyoty, has been used in Russia for over 400 years. It is similar to the Chinese abacus, but instead of counting using the fingers and toes, it uses the fingers of one hand to move the beads.

Abacus in India

The Indian Abacus is commonly used in India, particularly by merchants and traders. It is a simple abacus made from wood or metal, with beads or stones on wires or cords.

Abacus in Europe

The abacus was introduced to Europe through the ancient Greeks, and was also used in medieval times. In Europe, the abacus was often used in conjunction with paper and pencil to perform more complex calculations.

Abacus in Africa

The Abacus was also used in Ancient Egypt and various parts of Africa. However, the use of the abacus in Africa is not as prevalent as it is in other parts of the world today.


Counting around the world is both fascinating and complex. The Abacus has been used as a counting tool in many cultures, and its design has varied from culture to culture. Today, the abacus is not as widely used as it was in the past, but it still remains an important part of many cultures, particularly in Asia. By learning about the abacus, we can appreciate the diverse ways that people have learned to count and make calculations throughout history.

Reflecting on Reflection: How Mirrors Work
Mastering Math with the Abacus: Tips and Tricks for Effective Teaching