Soroban or Japanese Abacus

Soroban or Japanese Abacus

<< >>
Usage conditions apply
This Japanese abacus or soroban has an open wooden frame painted black, with a black wooden cross bar. There are five metal rods parallel to the cross bar, one above it and four below. Each rod holds 23 white plastic beads. The beads, held in 23 separate columns by wooden pieces between them, are in roughly the shape a human torso, spherical on top and polygonal below. They do not slide along rods, as in a usual abacus, but flip toward or away from the cross bar.
According to the donor, the abacus was built for the blind. It is stored in a white box with a turquoise cover. A picture of the abacus is attached to the cover. On the inside of the lid is a yellow paper label written in Japanese characters. It also reads in part: PAT. NO. 9452 (/) TAKEDA'S ABACUS (/) 9, IWAMOTO, KANDA, CHIYODA-KU, TOKYO (/) SALES OFFICES:HORIE CO:LTD. TEL (866)4918.
In the early 1950s, Russell Kletzing, the donor of this instrument, was denied a place on the register of the U.S. Civil Service because he passed the exams with the help of sighted readers. The National Federation of the Blind challenged this decision in the case of Kletzing vs. Young. Although Kletzing lost the case, the Civil Service eventually reversed its position.
In the course of his career, Russell Kletzing was chief counsel of the California State Water Resources Department and president of the Sacramento chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. For a brief time in the 1960s, he was president of the National Federation of the Blind.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Other Terms
abacus; Soroban, 1-4 (Japanese)
Kletzing, Russell
Place Made
Japan: Tōkyō, Tokyo
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
plastic (overall material)
wood (overall material)
overall: 3 cm x 34.3 cm x 9 cm; 1 3/16 in x 13 1/2 in x 3 17/32 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Russell Kletzing and Ruth S. Kletzing
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object