This is a wonderful exchange! How little we know about other cultures, and what fun to find out.
>We need help with: On the flight from California to Philadelphia I was reading >a book, >"Pi in the Sky, Counting, Thinking and Being" by John D. >Barrow and from that I thought it would be interesting to >find out all >the different ways different people around the world use >their >hands to show counting. > >I wrote my "keypal" Musumi Suzuki today the following >message: > >******* >Dear Mutsumi, > >Could you tell me how you count on your fingers in Japan? I >am reading >a book called "Pi in the Sky" and the author talks about >different >cultures using their hands to count. Some people show the >numbers 1 >to 10 on their fingers by starting with the palm open and >others are >the opposite - they start with the palm closed. I started >thinking >that when I was in Germany they show "2" by extending the >thumb and >the index finger while American's typically extend the index >finger >and the middle finger to show "2". > >So I am asking various "keypals" how they show numbers with >their >fingers. I just find it interesting. I am also curious >whether the >palm of the hand is facing or the back of the hand is facing >you >as they show the fingers representing the numbers. > >Thank you, >Suzanne >******** > >This is his lovely reply: > >******** >To: email@example.com >Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org >Subject: Re: Different counting methods >Date: Fri, 19 Jul 1996 12:03:40 +0900 >From: Mutsumi Suzuki <email@example.com> > >Dear Suzanne; > >We Japanese start with open palm facing, and follows as; > >one---> fold thumb >two----> thumb and index finger >three--> thumb, index finger and middle >... >five---> closed palm >six----> open little finger >seven--> little and ring finger >... >ten----> open palm. > >To show two, we use extended index and middle fingers, >with back of hand facing me (palm side facing towards >the person to show the number). > >To show five we use open palm (not closed, differs from the >above counting system). > >Really interesting problem! >Mutsumi > >******** > >My "help" question is that I would love help gathering more >data >on this question. The reason I find this of interest is that >I >have always thought it worthwhile to demonstrate to students >that "math" was not written (or invented!) by one person. >I like to get students engaged in thinking of the >development >of mathematics and why it has developed. I think the idea of >counting is such a basic concept and could be fun to use to >open a discussion on the development of mathematics. > >If I receive a variety of answers as I am expecting,it would >make a fun Web page and possibly an activity. > >Thank you , >Suzanne