math problem
Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
April 7, 2024 ·  3 min read

Can You Solve This Math Problem That Went Viral In Japan?

What is the answer to 9 – 3 ÷ 1/3 + 1 ? This question sparked much debate in Japan as people struggled to solve it. This viral math problem went global as thousands took on the challenge.

Although math isn’t everyone’s favorite subject in school, solving equations is a great test of logic and problem-solving. This is probably why this math equation went viral as puzzle-lovers everywhere wanted to take a crack at it. After all, there’s something so satisfying to find the solution to a problem, especially one that so many other people struggle to answer. 

Could you solve it? 

The Japanese Viral Math Problem 

In the 1980s, a Japanese survey found that 90% of the 20-year-old volunteers correctly answered the equation. However, nowadays, only about 60% of people in that age group gave the correct solution. [1] 

Go ahead and try to solve it on your own before we give you a hint. 

How to solve the viral math problem 

It’s a little challenging, right? For most people, it’s been a while since they had to complete a complicated math equation without the aid of a calculator. And even if you did use a calculator, it would most likely give you the wrong answer. This is because a calculator would consider the 1 / 3 as 1 ÷ 3, instead of the fraction 1/3. This means the calculator will compute the equation as 3 / 1 / 3, and give the final result of 9. To solve it correctly, you need to ensure the 1 / 3 stays grouped. Therefore, you should insert it into the calculator with brackets: 9 – 3 ÷ (1/3) + 1. 

To solve this viral problem, you need to consider the order of operations. A simple way to remember this is to use the PEMDAS or BEDMAS acronyms: 

P – Parentheses 
E – Exponents 
M – Multiplication
D – Division 
A – Addition 
S – Subtraction 

B – Brackets 
E – Exponents 
D – Division 
M – Multiplications 
A – Addition 
S – Subtraction 

Keep in mind that division and multiplication are of equal precedence, as are addition and subtraction. Therefore, in cases where both of these are present, work from left to right. For example, in this equation, addition and subtraction are both present, so solve them starting from whichever one is on the left first. 

Now try the equation again, but this time, use this principle to determine which part of the equation you should work on first then so on. 

Here’s a bonus hint 

If you are still stumped, here’s another tip to break down the equation further. The first part of the equation that should be dealt with is the fraction: 1/3. In other terms, it’s 1 ÷  3. Once you solve that, follow the order of BEDMAS to get the solution. 

So what is the final answer? 

Drum roll please…

9 – 3 ÷ 1/3 + 1 = 1 

Did you get it right? 

Check out this video for a more illustrative version of solving this viral math problem:  

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  1. Does this math problem prove that Japan’s 20-somethings are getting dumber?” Sora News 24. Mike. December 5, 2015.
  2. “9 – 3 ÷ 1/3 + 1 = ? The Correct Answer (Viral Problem In Japan).” YouTube. Mind Your Decisions. March 17, 2016.