Japanese Math Today

In Japan, elementary school math is called sansu (算数). At higher level schools and universities, math is called sugaku ( 数学). Japan has a nationally set mathematics curriculum determined by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Students are internationally known for high achievement in mathematics, consistently ranking at the top in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

Math lessons in classrooms begin slowly and progress methodically to engage students in challenging problems. Japanese teachers place a much greater emphasis on students thinking about the problem than on quickly coming up with a solution. Students work in small groups to discuss their ideas.


Japanese Math in the U.S.

English language versions of Japanese math books have been available in the U.S. since 2006 when Tokyo Shoseki, a leading textbook publisher in Japan, published Mathematics for Elementary Schools for grades 1-6 in English. In 2011, Tokyo Shoseki collaborated with Global Educational Resources to make Mathematics for Elementary Schools and Mathematics International for grades 7-9 available to researchers in the U.S.

In 2013, Koyo Publishing Inc. started adaptation of Tokyo Shoseiki's New Mathematics textbooks and teacher's guides for use in U.S. schools and homeschool settings. Koyo Publishing Inc. published Sansu Math for grades 1-5 in 2015.

JapanMath.com published a collection of Math Fact Mastery workbooks in 2014.


History of Japanese Math

Wasan (和算) refers to the traditional style of Japanese mathematics developed during the Edo period (1603-1867). The Japanese mathematician, Seki Takakazu, expounded on ancient Chinese mathematics to develop wasan, which is distinct from both Chinese and western math. Students at wasan schools formed teams to present and answer mathematics problems. For them, solving problems was like solving puzzles. During this time, sangaku (算額), a combination of mathematics and art on votive tablets, was also established. Mathematical problems and solutions were painted on wooden tablets and were prominently displayed in the entrances of Shinto shrines and in Buddhist temples. The problems featured on the sangaku are typical wasan geometrical problems or theorems and usually involved finding radii of circles and areas and volumes. The problems ranged from very simple to challenging.

When contact with the west was established in the Mejii period, Arabic numbers were introduced into Japanese math. Wasan was eventually abandoned in favor of the new style.