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Singapore Math

Friday, March 10, 2023

Math à la Japonaise

We need to thank Mrs. Marie Kondo for advocating that tidying up needn’t be obeyed as an eleventh commandment, especially for a significant number of us who can’t afford to live sans a mess, or who just refuse to be Konned by her enviable minimalist lifestyle.

Since the tidying consultant has been in the limelight recently after her long overdue admission that the art of tidying up could be an optional activity for those who can’t stand the sight of all kinds of oft-dated, sentimental, or hoarded items lying around the house (and in the office), I thought it’s apt to share about “KonMari Math,” which I christened two years ago, to show that even math educators too haven’t been spared by the gospel or philosophy of the organizing goddess.

Math word du jour

Photo from math prof @mathematicsprof on 17/2/19

Personally, I’m dazzled by most things Japanese: origami, sushi, wasabi, not to say, soroban (Japanese abacus—square-rooting, cube-rooting, differentiating, and integrating), Kumon math, Sakamoto math, Sangaku, and Wasan.

After being introduced to Mr. Kenji Wakabayashi by my ex-colleague and friend, Mr. O.K. Heng, to learn about the ABCs of the Sakamoto Maths Method, I was later offered the opportunity to attend a months-long series of math talks on the Japanese problem-solving heuristic (or “problem-solving strategy” as it’s known in some parts of the globe).

To certify that I’d mastered Sakamoto math, I reluctantly had to take an exam with fellow participants who’re much younger than me. I was already around forty then, and needless to say, by then, it’d been a while since I last sat for a math proficiency test or exam.

Front cover of the manual

Today, I’m thankful to Mr. Wakabayashi who gave me an opportunity to get a strong foundation on Sakamoto math, which has proved to be a more advantageous or intuitive problem-solving strategy than the bar model method in a number of problem situations.

What is even more amazing is that I attended all these Japanese math lessons without forking out a penny. Talking about being blessed mathematically (and financially), when other participants or franchise sponsored trainers have to pay hundreds of dollars to attend these twice weekly and weekend classes.

Indeed, Sakamoto math offers paid, sponsored, or guest attendees another method of solution to solving brain-unfriendly word problems. I think a Singapore math educator-turned-trainer ought to be versed with not only the bar model method, but also with the stack model method and the Sakamoto math method—a trinity of problem-solving strategies.

Recently, while working on a bar modeling manuscript, I accidentally came across some Wasan (or Japanese math) materials, which further solidifies my knowhow of Nippon math, especially some of the techniques I learned in Sakamoto math moons ago.

May I encourage all of you to expose yourself to the richness of Wasan, which would help broaden and deepen your appreciation and knowledge of multicultural math, if you’re open to learning different problem-solving strategies (or heuristics) commonly used in countries with a rich mathematical heritage.

Of course, to learn Sakamoto math effectively, do it preferably under a master-trainer from Japan—never mind their accent—rather than merely reading the notes of your child or nephew who’s signed up for a Sakamoto math course.

May the learning of Nippon math and multicultural math (Vedic math, bar model method, stack model method, line model method, …) spark mathematical joy in your life.

Wishing you many blessed joy-sparking or aha! moments.

Mathematically & multiculturally yours


Kondo, M. (2022). Marie Kondo’s Kurashi at home. New York: Ten Speed Press.

Yan, K.C. (2016). Sangaku — Japanese temple geometry. Geometrical quickies & trickies. Singapore: MathPlus Publishing.

© Yan Kow Cheong, March 10, 2023.

A New Yorker cartoon by Evan Lian.

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