Japanese Antique Jitsubutsu Kanban | Shokeu Type Shop Sign | Meiji/Taisho Period


Dimensions: 43-0”L x 12-1/4”w x 2-0”d

This is a wonderful RARE wooden Japanese Jitsubutsu Kanban for an Abacus (soroban) Shop. This realistic piece was designed especially for merchants in this specialization, as it is oversized and has eyelets hanging horizontally either inside or outside the shop. The is a large section and a small section are separated by a wood member that has been lacquered in a cream color, with 21 rows of beech wooden beads with 1/5 bead count, (style), 126 beads in total. Each bead is fitted onto bamboo and boar’s hair bristle dowels to keep each bead in position. Shop sign ‘Junkai ātisuto’ (itinerant artists), carved and painted kanban. And finally, there is an ancient signature script on the top of the frame. All styles of Kanji and the two kana syllabaries are used in Kanban, although the Soho style was more frequently chosen, because its rounded, running script enhanced the visual beauty of the sign and because it complemented the hiragana which was often incorporated in the writing and cannot be interpreted.

The entire frame is made of Japanese Oak and probably crafted between 1920-1930. This date range can be inferred from the number of wooden beads it contains, (The Japanese formally changed a 1/5 style beading to a 1/4 style in 1930 when all Japanese school textbooks were revised). Due to its apparent age and construction, this Soroban was likely made exclusively with traditional Japanese hand tools to create the traditional joinery and metal corner hardware, which have held the abacus together all these years. This kanban/abacus is a collector’s find. For additional research see Kanban: Shop Signs of Japan by Dana Levy, Lea Sneider, and Frank Gibney, page 148, 1983.

Condition: The abacus is in excellent condition which means that the piece is slightly weathered and commensurate with age. The original cast iron hanging fasteners from which it was hung remain functional and fully in tacked with the original finish.