The first time I encountered a juku was when I returned with my 上智大学学生寮 roommate (I spent my 3rd year in university on exchange at Sophia) to his home in Shimane Prefecture. Shinji’s parents ran an abacus juku. I thought to myself, “An abacus juku? In 1991? In Japan, where the pocket calculator was invented in the 1960s? How bizzare!”
Over the years, I have visited the 瀬川塾 many times and have been fascinated and impressed by the success that abacus education can have with some kids. Children who enjoy computation (I was one of those myself) can get a real kick out of the speed with which the abacus lets them perform calculations, especially once they graduate to methods where they’re only visualizing the abacus not actually using it.
My former roommate is now involved in a larger-scale effort to introduce the abacus more formally into math education, not as a calculator, but rather as one more way to introduce elementary school students to different math concepts. See Shinji’s blog for more information on SSKClub and their efforts.