The soroban (算盤, counting tray) is an abacus developed in Japan. It is derived from the Chinese suanpan, imported to Japan around 1600. Like the suanpan, the soroban is still used today, despite the proliferation of practical and affordable pocket electronic calculators.
The soroban is composed of an odd number of columns or rods, each having beads: one bead having a value of five, called go-dama (五玉, “five-bead”) and four beads each having a value of one, called ichi-dama (一玉, “one-bead”). Each set of beads of each rod is divided by a bar known as a reckoning bar. The number and size of beads in each rod make a standard-sized 13-rod soroban much less bulky than a standard-sized suanpan of similar expressive power. Continue reading
Burakumin in ( Japanese: “hamlet people”) also called eta (“an abundance of defilement”), or “untouchable,” is an outcaste Japanese minority group at the bottom of the traditional Japanese social system. The Japanese term eta is highly pejorative, but prejudice has tended even to tarnish the otherwise neutral term burakumin itself.
No physical characteristics distinguish burakumin, unlike other main minority groups, from the majority population. They were originally members of outcast communities in the Shinto and Buddhist era, composed of those with occupations considered impure or tainted by death (such as executioners, undertakers, workers in slaughterhouses, butchers or tanners), which have severe social stigmas of kegare (“defilement”) attached to them. Other outcast groups from whom buraku may have been descended included the hinin (“non-human”). The definition of hinin, as well as their social status and typical occupations varied over time, but typically included ex-convicts and vagrants who worked as town guards, street cleaners or entertainers. Continue reading