The Edges of Lean — Ep 96 Continuous Improvement and the Japanese Abacus with Sensei Miwako


Miwako Bukres has taken the honorific “sensei” – teacher. She is not a lean sensei but a beloved teacher of the Japanese abacus. She’s here to tell us what we can learn about Japanese culture by developing the practices of learning from failure and discipline and encouraging clear analytical thinking using the ancient Japanese practice of doing math on the abacus.


Sensei Miwako

Miwako, affectionately known as Sensei (Japanese for teacher), grew up in Japan, where she developed a deep connection with the abacus at a young age. She began training with the abacus beads at age seven, lighting a passion that would shape her career path.   

After moving to the U.S. in 1992, Miwako channeled her love of teaching and working with children into founding the Japanese Abacus Math School in 2001. There are no greater rewards for Miwako than seeing her student’s faces light up with confidence and understanding as they discover what their abacus training has enabled them to achieve. 



00:00:30 Learning from the failure and discipline

00:08:41 The Japanese Abacus

 00:10:28 The Power of the Abacus and its future benefits

00:14:23 The speed of calculations and how a system can help that

00:20:18 The importance of respect for our students and future generation

00:23:08 Teaching children to be independent and confident

00:27:33 Discipline in American education

00:35:31 Appreciation and investing in children

00:44:33 Perseverance and not giving up




  • Learning the abacus helps students develop analytical thinking and learn from failure.
  • The abacus skills acquired are universal and can be applied globally.
  • The ability to perform calculations mentally and efficiently is a valuable skill.
  • Teachers play a role in fostering respect and discipline.
  • Teaching adults can be more challenging than teaching children.
  • The abacus teaches students analytical thinking and how to learn from failure.
  • Children who learn abacus skills can quickly and accurately solve mathematical problems without calculators.
  • Being open-minded and embracing new knowledge is essential for everyone, particularly teachers.
  • Respect is about treating others with kindness and consideration, not just deference to authority.
  • Teachers create an environment where adults feel safe to make mistakes and learn from them.
  • Perseverance is the key to success, and we should encourage students to push through adversity.



Memorable Quote from Sensei Miwako

“Decide something to do but don’t give up. The weather won’t be beautiful every day. Sometimes, there is a cloud, sometimes rain, and sometimes hell. Life will be the same. It won’t be a joy every day. But there is always a reason you have to cry. Joy is a result of sadness and anger or everything. So just keep going and don’t give up. That is my advice to everybody. Including myself.”



Connect with Sensei Miwako