【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】 ~Banshu abacus (Hyogo Prefecture)~

【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】 ~Banshu abacus (Hyogo Prefecture)~


Banshu abacus



【Production area of Banshu abacus】

Ono City, Hyogo Prefecture

(The southern part of Hyogo Prefecture is called “Banshu”.)



【What is Banshu abacus?】

An abacus made in the area around Ono City in Banshu (southern Hyogo Prefecture).

Blessed with a mild climate and low rainfall, Ono City has an extensive rice paddy farming area, and abacus making has been actively carried out during the off-season.


The origin of Banshu abacus is said to be Otsu abacus, which is said to be the birthplace of abacus.

Otsu in Shiga Prefecture has long been prosperous with the “Omi merchants”, one of the three major merchants in Japan, and has been a hub for transportation.

In addition, because it is close to areas such as Osaka and Kyoto where commerce is developing, the production of abacuses has been thriving from the beginning.


The Banshu abacus is not only easy to use and repels beads, but it also has beauty as a work of art.

In June 1976, it was designated as a traditional craft.



【Features of Banshu abacus】

The biggest feature is the division of labor.

The abacus is made up of various parts, and the production of each part is divided.

Because it is a high-quality abacus made by highly skilled craftsmen and because it is produced in large quantities, it has become a representative traditional craft of Hyogo Prefecture.

There is a wide variety of types, not only common ones used by people in school classes and business, but also various colors and unique shapes have been developed.


With the spread of computers and calculators, the demand for abacus continues to decline.

However, the abacus class is very popular as one of early childhood education because it teaches not only calculation skills but also concentration.

Further demand discovery will continue in the future, such as approaching adults as brain training.


Banshu abacus has a 70% share of the national abacus production.



【History of Banshu abacus】

The soroban came to Japan at the end of the Muromachi period.

It enters Nagasaki from mainland China and is transmitted from there to Otsu City in Shiga Prefecture.

Otsu was close to Osaka and Kyoto, which were big commercial areas at the time, and the name of “Otsu abacus” came to be known all over Japan.

The Otsu abacus is said to be the root of the Japanese style abacus.


In 1580, Hideyoshi Hashiba (later Hideyoshi Toyotomi) attacked Miki Castle.

Since Ono City was near Miki Castle, some of the residents who lived in Ono City fled to Otsu to escape the war.

Residents who learned how to make abacuses in Otsu while they were evacuated returned to their hometown of Ono City and began manufacturing abacuses in earnest.

This is said to be the origin of the Banshu abacus.


In the Edo period, terakoya were opened one after another to teach ordinary children how to read, write, and use the abacus.

As terakoya spread nationwide, the abacus became especially popular in areas where commerce was flourishing.

As evidence of this, it is said that at the end of the Edo period, there were eight abacus wholesalers and more than 200 subcontractors.


After the Sino-Japanese War, a machine was invented that used the power of a water wheel to produce pearls, and mass production became possible at once.

After World War II, the demand for abacuses continued to grow in tandem with economic development.

In 1960, the peak year, 3.6 million units were produced.

Although the demand for abacuses has decreased due to the spread of computers, more than 500,000 abacuses are still produced annually.



【Production process of Banshu abacus】

The Banshu abacus has more than 100 steps to complete, and the division of labor is adopted.

Craftsmen with outstanding skills such as “ball shaving craftsmen” and “assembly craftsmen” carefully create each one.


①Making frame material

The materials used for the frame of the abacus are ebony (black wood) and lamination reinforcing agents.

The wood is cut and processed little by little according to the required parts.


②Bead making


Beads are mainly made from Onoorekanba.

As the name suggests, it was named as a birch tree that is hard enough to break an ax.

When manufacturing high-quality abacuses, other woods such as boxwood and rosewood are used in addition to ebony.


Once the wood to be used has been decided, it is dried thoroughly before being shaved.

In this process, the wood is sliced into round pieces, punched into round shapes, and then gradually shaved into the shape of an abacus bead.

In addition, there is also a method of cutting a long and thin round stick and processing it into a pearl.


③Shaft making


Higo is the axis through which the beads of the abacus pass.

The main material is madake, and in the case of high-grade abacuses, “susutake” is used.


The bamboo is cut according to the size of the abacus, processed and polished to make it round.

As mentioned above, the Banshu abacus uses a division of labor, so the frames, beads, and shafts required for the finished abacus are manufactured separately.


④Frame processing

This is the process of drilling holes in the frame plate made in the first process.

First, the entire surface of the frame plate is scraped to a smooth surface using a planer.

After that, a hole for inserting the shaft and back bar, and a groove for fitting the back plate are made.


After creating the back plate, a hole is made in the “beam” that is inserted between the upper and lower frames to allow the shaft made of bamboo to pass through.

Also, once the groove is carved, the celluloid is filled in.


After cutting the bamboo shaft made in the previous process and preparing the shaft, make a “tenon” to combine the frame at the end.

Temporary assembly is performed before the actual assembly work begins.

By temporarily assembling, it is possible to determine whether there are any places that need adjustment.

This is an important task for the smooth progress of the post-process.


⑤Inserting the shaft and inserting the beads


Once the shaft is inserted into the beam, the beads are inserted.



It is a process of assembling in the order of “lower frame → right frame → back plate → back bar”.


⑦Drilling holes for eye bamboo, back bar, and corners

In the top and bottom frames, make holes for “metake dome”, “back stick dome” and “sumidome”.

Insert a metal wire into the hole and cut it to the appropriate length with scissors.

By going through this process, the “back bar”, “axis”, and “left and right frames” are tightly pressed, so it is a necessary process to make a durable abacus.




Finally, the frame is carefully rubbed and polished.

The materials used are sandpaper and leaves of Muku tree.

In addition, the excess wire is cut and filed.

The Banshu abacus is complete when it has been polished to a beautiful luster.





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