Meet Our Leading Teachers

Your Child’s Success Is Our Success

Miwako Sakabayashi, Founder

Lovingly known as Sensei Miwako (‘sensei’ means ‘teacher’ in Japanese), Miwako grew up in her native country of Japan with the Abacus. When she first put her hand to a heavenly bead at age 7, her path was set. At the age of 12, she placed third in Japan’s National Abacus Competition, and her Abacus math accomplishments as an adult garnered a prestigious position in Japan’s banking industry.

She came to the U.S. in 1992 and settled in Oregon. With her love of the Abacus and a passion for working with children and teaching, she founded the Japanese Abacus Math School, JAMS, in 2001. For Miwako, there’s no greater sense of accomplishment than seeing a student’s face light up with confidence when they discover their mental calculation abilities and succeed with their class work.

And Miwako is a hands-on person – maybe that’s why she’s so skilled with the Abacus. She’s earned degrees in calligraphy, flower arranging, tea ceremony and sewing kimonos. Beyond the classroom, she still enjoys those activities, as well as getting creative in the kitchen or preparing genuine Japanese cuisine.

Two decades of Abacus Teaching Experience
Besides opening her own school, Miwako has been working to educate others about abacus throughout the region for 20 years. Her accomplishments include:

  • Richmond Elementary School, Portland, Oregon – January 1998 to December 1999
  • Woodstock Elementary School, Portland, Oregon – Fall 1999
  • 2001 Working on Abacus pilot program for 4th graders along with Dr. Leo Richards, Director, Montana Abacus Institute and Former Professor, University of Southern California
  • Saturday Academy 2007
  • Children’s Hour Academy May 2007-June 2008
  • Village Home (Home School) Fall 2008
  • Oregon College of Art and Craft Spring 2009
  • Oregon Episcopal School Spring 2009
  • Sherwood School District – Summer 2009
  • Portland State University – 2009 to present

Mika Comeaux, Parent Coordinator & Assistant Teacher

Mika was born and raised in Japan. She came to the U.S. to attend college and has remained ever since. Throughout her college career, she volunteered tutoring other students and helped educate elementary school students about the Japanese culture. She has long understood the importance of a strong educational foundation.

Over the years, Mika has participated in volunteer activities in the community as well as public school system. Mika has also held the position of assistant instructor at the Japanese Montessori Children’s House before joining JAMS.

Mika always finds it fascinating to watch children adapt and excel with amazing skills in their own way, and looks forward to helping them to learn and grow. Her favorite part of being a key member of the JAMS team is knowing that she also learns and grows with every student at JAMS.

Mika has a lot of hobbies. She is interested in many areas and always curious and open to trying new things. Children definitely keep her surprised and meeting new people constantly gives her a fresh perspective on life.

Mai Bukres, Assistant Teacher

Mai Bukres is a third-year undergraduate student at Portland State University majoring in International Studies, International Development, along with Economics and a minor in Child/Youth and Family Studies. In the future, she hopes to apply her research with a focus on foreign policy concerning youth. She is also a full-time educator at the Japanese Abacus Math School, teaching children abacus. She grew up in a Japanese-Libyan home in Tigard, Oregon, USA and studied abroad in Japan during high school, which heavily influenced her strong international perspective in academia. And had the opportunity to be an intern for a congressman in Japan over the summer. In her free time, she enjoys playing the violin and has been classically trained since the age of 5.

Megumi, Teacher

Megumi was born and raised in Japan, and she lives in Japan now. She loves studying English, so she flew to America to study abroad after she graduated from high school in Japan. She spent her college life for 3 years in Idaho, 1 year in Ohio, and 2 months in San Francisco to get the degree of Bachelor of Arts, General Art emphasis on Photography and Art History in Bose State University. The reason why she chose Idaho is that she loves nature and Idaho sounded perfect for her at that time. She spent most of her time for playing sports, playing the piano and Japanese drums and working on an abacus in her childhood. Her father was an accountant and abacus teacher. He ran his own abacus school for over 30 years. He forced her to work on an abacus almost everyday though she’d rather playing outside or playing the piano instead. Even though she didn’t like practicing abacus, she was very good at it, and she even got a champion of an annual abacus competition in her hometown several times. She was especially good at dictation games with abacus.

After she came back to Japan, she trained to become a sport instructor. She taught swimming to children, aerobics and aquabics to adults in her age of 20’s. Then while she was raising her two little sons in her age of 30’s, she worked as a clerk, translator and secretary. At that time, she had no idea that she would become an abacus teacher soon. In 2011, a big earthquake occurred in Japan, then her thought was completely changed from what she used to think. She started helping her father’s abacus school, and two years later when her father reached 70 years old, she took over his school. Now she runs her own school by herself and tries to expand more varieties in the program. There are abacus and English classes right now, and she is trying to add a chalk art class as well. Abacus and English abilities are only shown and evaluated by scores in Japan. So, she would like to add something that is not evaluated by scores but talents, creativities and uniqueness in her program. She always thinks about how she can help children’s abilities through her job. There are three things she will never quit in her life besides job, which are studying English, creating art and exercising.

Kara Coffey

Kara, Teacher

Kara Coffey graduated from the University of Texas with a double major in International Business and Marketing.  After university, she joined the Japanese Exchange Teaching (JET) program and became an assistant teacher in Japanese high schools in Saitama prefecture and junior high schools in Tochigi prefecture.  After teaching, she continued to work with students as a Coordinator of International Relations at a private college in Ibaraki prefecture.  Kara then moved on from teaching in Japanese schools to pursue marketing and worked for a market research company in Tokyo.  She then returned to the U.S. to continue her market research career in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

For the past eight years Kara has enjoyed supporting and volunteering for the PPS Japanese Language Immersion program.  She currently serves on the Oya no Kai Board which supports that program. When not working or volunteering, she likes to spend time with her family and friends.

Kana Ito, Teacher

Kana, Teacher

Kana, a Japanese native born and raised in Japan, spent most of her childhood in Hong Kong.  Growing up in then-British-colonized Hong Kong surrounded by many English speakers, she naturally grew her interest in studying English. After going back to Japan, she sought for any opportunities to learn English, such as taking summer English language courses in England and traveling to many English-speaking countries. She also studied Spanish and spent some time living in Spanish-speaking countries. After earning the Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Keio University in Japan, she worked as a bank clerk briefly, but never lost her interest in learning foreign languages and cultures. 

After spending several years at a bank in Tokyo, she left for the United States and studied how to teach Japanese language for non-native speakers as a graduate student at San Francisco State University.  Her strong interest in studying foreign languages and cultures turned into her passion in teaching her native language and introducing Japanese culture for non-Japanese people. Her hard-work bore her the fruit of the Master’s degree in Teaching Japanese Language as a second language. While studying in San Francisco, she started her teaching carrier and taught Japanese language at high schools and colleges. Through studying as a graduate student and teaching a language as a teacher at the same time, she learned how every bit of effort, continuous work, and grit would eventually bear fruit. Kana is very much willing to share her brief with JAMS students and parents. 

 After getting married, Kana moved to Portland, Oregon and taught Japanese language at Portland State University, which she enjoyed very much. 

After giving birth to her first child, Kana took time off from teaching. But her son started to learn abacus under Miwako-sensei when he was 5 years old. Kana did not know so much about abacus, but her husband used to practice abacus when he was a child. Having seen how her son learned abacus and competed with other kids, Kana came to realize how powerful abacus is. Like any other kids, her son also experienced ups and downs in learning abacus, but it turned out that her son also proved that continuous efforts and grit are the keys to success and will eventually pay off. Abacus truly strengthened not only his calculation abilities, but also concentration skills and perseverance.  Her son is still aiming higher for more advanced abacus and anzan levels.  

In Japan, there is a traditional belief from pre-modern era, that says “what you need for life is skills in reading, writing and abacus.”  From both her own and her son’s experience, Kana knows what this saying means. She is very excited to join JAMS and to share her passion in abacus and learning for life. 

 In her spare time, Kana enjoys reading, playing the piano, cooking variety of cuisine and baking  Japanese style sweets. Also, she is a big fan of yoga, for more than 10 years now.