Abacus lecturer regains crown after 7 years

CHIBA - Hiroka Horiuchi has regained her crown as national abacus champion after seven years. The 24-year-old suffered a slump soon after she won the national championship for the first time when she was a third-year high school student. In those days, she sometimes could not keep back her bitter tears while thinking, "I must win."

Horiuchi began studying the abacus at a class run by her mother when she was 4. She used to run back home after school to learn the abacus. Entering a competition where she beat adults was a kind of school trip for Horiuchi.

At the national championship, which saw 500 competitors with a first rank or higher participate, the key to getting into the top group is a technique of mental arithmetic where competitors calculate with an abacus in their heads. The technique includes multiplications with six digits and dividing 11-digit figures by a five-digit figure.

"Return to the basics," Horiuchi wrote down in a notebook shortly before the championship in August.

Remembering her joyful feelings of childhood when she discovered her answers were correct, she practiced for up to eight hours a day, to the point where her neck hurt when she raised her head. Mental toughness, concentration and stamina are required abilities. Abacus competitors are actually athletes.

"I'm unparalleled in how hard I practiced," she said. Horiuchi believed in herself, focusing more on accuracy than calculating faster. As a result, she emerged victorious for the second time.

Her next challenge is to win the master meet for higher rank holders in late November. The meet will likely be the final opportunity as a competitor, as she is planning to devote herself to teaching the abacus after that. Getting married is another factor leading to her decision.

She has an abacus school in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, where 120 students aged between 4 to 13 attend.

"I want to foster a national champion, someday," she said.