On a recent trip to Japan, I chanced upon a shop selling scales and other instruments in a back street in Kyoto.

Mixed in the rather haphazard window 'display' were two Japanese abacuses or soroban.

Last time I had been in Japan was in the 1980s, when electronic calculators had taken over nearly everywhere, except at the Japan Rail ticket office where a machine printed the tickets but a soroban was needed to add up the total cost.

Now you see them only at flea markets, and as icons. Racoon-dog monsters often appear outside bars and restaurants to encourage patrons to spend and have a good time: this one had a soroban to keep tabs.

Gettting back to the examples in the instrument shop, what struck me was the range - the larger one could handle numbers up to 10 37 !  The shopkeeper appreciated my interest but we could not communicate, so I remain ignorant of what purpose it could possilby serve. 10 37 is a seriously large number - more than all the petals on all the flowers on all the cherry trees in all of Japan in Spring.