Traveling around the Setouchi area you will find hidden gems everywhere you go. Each town, city and prefecture around the inland sea has specialtiy products, interesting historical artifacts, and something to be proud of.
Ono the Soroban City
In Ono City, Hyogo the entire town is very proud of their 400 year plus history begin the number one producers of the Soroban in Japan.
Ono is one of the largest producers of abacus (Soroban in Japanese). A soroban is a tactile counting and mathmatics tool. An official report estimates that Ono city ship soroban worth over 1.25 million US dollars per year.
I set off to explore Ono and find out more.
First stop was Ono City Hall– easy to spot with the super sized soroban out in front of the main parking lot– as big as a truck! I wanted to play with this big soroban- set up to display the current year!
I also noticed that even the manhole covers in the streets celebrate the soroban and also the metalworks industry of the area.
So what is a soroban?
The soroban is a Japanese abacus. A variation of the ancient Chinese suanpan, the soroban was created in Japan in the 14th century. Japanese believe it is a necessary developmental skill for students to learn to use a soroban. It is not enough to just do calculations on smartphones and calculators. The Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry even hosts tests which soroban users can take to obtain a skill level license– sort of like getting a black belt in a martial art. There are six levels of mastery, from grade 6 (very skilled) all the way up to grade 1 (for those who have completely mastered the soroban.)
Nearby the giant soroban you can tour the Ono City Traditional Museum which of course hosts an abacus exhibition. Browse soroban and abacus variations throughout history and from around the world.
I was fascinated to see cultural variations of the abacus from countries near and far. This Russian style abacus has a very different configuration from the Japanese soroban.
The soroban is taught in primary schools as a part of lessons in mathematics. A high value is placed on some of the benefits of soroban. Learning to use one profiently helps in so many ways;
- Fosters a sense and trust in numbers and mathmatics.
- Shows decimal places and their meaning in a hands-on, tactile way.
- Improves understanding of compounded numbers.
- Develop qualities of concentration, patience, and endurance.
- Increases self-confidence.
- Works on the decimal not fraction system, which is an easy gateway to digital systems.
- Leads to greater mental capacity.
- Expresses large numbers simply and easily.
- Provides a sense of achievement.
Two special items in the City Hall Soroban museum were models made from soroban parts. These models are totally amazing. One was a reproduction of Himeji castle, the most famous sightseeing spot and a symbol of Hyogo prefrecture.
The Himeji castle piece was made of more than 50,000 soroban beads, weighs about 60 kgs and took over two years to build. Nearby was the equally amazing reproduction of a portable shrine or Mikoshi. This smaller model used about 11,000 beads and took over 6 months to construct.
After browing the historical and fantasical collection at the Ono City Hall it was time to head across town to the Soroban Village.
At this small workshop you can make your own soroban and even learn how to use one if you have never tried before. The workshop was set up for kids and adults by the Daichi company which has been manufacturing soroban in Ono City for aproximately 400 years!
The company wanted to share their pride in Ono and help young people take a greater interest in using an abaucus. Parents can bring their kids to classes after school and on the weekends and visitors can stop by anytime and make a truly memorable souvenir from this “city of the soroban.”
The brightly lit shop has a large table running down the center. This is where the action takes place. Guests choose their design, the size of their soroban and the color scheme and with help from the friendly staff they can assemble their own unique abacus to take home.
You will be guided step by step on the parts you need, how to line them up and finally you will put them all together to make your own special soroban. A medium sized version, like the one above, takes about 1 hour to make and costs under 2000 yen.
Nothing could better represent a day exploring Ono City. I am practicing and learning how to do calculations on my new, personalized soroban. What a special memory!
Getting to Ono
You can travel to Ono from Shinkaichi Station in Kobe, on the Kobe Express Line. Cost is aproximately 800 yen and the train ride takes about 1 hour.
Long term resident of Japan, from the East coast of the USA. I love art, design, books, writing, food, film and I am a bit addicted to stationary! I love telling and hearing great stories. Everyday can be an adventure if you are open minded and curious.
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