A Brief History of Pre-modern Japanese Coinage

By Shin’ichi Sakuraki
From "Catalogue of the Japanese Coin Collection (pre-Meiji) at the British Museum"

 

Introduction

Our understanding of the numismatic history of Japan has been transformed over the last couple of decades by a number of startling developments. Firstly, there has been a more thorough approach to documentary evidence through the discovery of new sources and new interpretive efforts directed at existing sources. Secondly, new advances in archaeology and a more effective analysis of coin finds have brought the fields of numismatics and archaeology closer together. The recording of individual coin-finds has been of particular importance in this respect. Although this is common practice in the West, where the collected body of data forms the basis of a great deal of numismatic research, this approach is relatively new in Japan. The recording of single coin-finds in Japan has not only yielded exciting results concerning the distribution of Japanese coin-types, but has also stimulated a far greater attention to the accurate identification of coins found throughout Japan.

The highlights of the new finds include the ‘coin tree’ (edazeni 枝銭), a group of coins still attached to the metal ‘branches’ from the mould) of Wadō kaichin 和同開珎 coins from the early 8th century, which was excavated at the Saikudani site in Osaka Prefecture, and the excavation of the Fuhonsen 富本銭 coins together with moulds and remains of the casting process at the Asukaike site in Nara Prefecture. These highlights are supported by other important finds. For example, the medieval settlements of Sakai and Hakata have also yielded coin-moulds; these throw light on the domestic production of imitation Chinese coins (mochūsen 模鋳銭) in Japan when no Japanese coinage was being produced. Another ‘coin tree’, this time consisting of Eiraku tsūhō coins, was found at the Muramatsu-Shirane site in Ibaraki Prefecture. Excavations at the site of the Iwami silver mine in Shimane Prefecture, which from the middle of the 16th century to the 17th century was one of the largest producers of silver in the world, have confirmed that the silver smelting and refining process known as cupellation was in use there. Investigations at the copper smelting works at Nagahori in Osaka, which was the centre of the copper production and sales activities of the Sumitomo family in the Edo period (1600–1868), have made it possible to reconstruct the Sumitomo copper refining process. At the site of Hara castle, which was the focus of the Shimabara uprising in 1637, some clipped silver coins and more than a dozen small pieces of silver bullion (mameita-gin 豆板銀) have been found. Some gold and silver Eiraku tsūhō coins have also been found on the site of the former residence of the Mōri daimyo in Minato-ku, Tokyo (compare Cat. no. 131–132). This find apart, these days gold and silver coins are far less likely to be found in quantity than they used to be and the focus of research has shifted towards metallurgical analysis.

In this paper, my aim is to present an overview of the numismatic history of Japan from ancient times up to the 19th century, drawing on specific examples from the collection of Japanese coins at the British Museum. It is an excellent opportunity not only to illustrate the strengths of the collection, but also to introduce to the English reader the fruits of Japanese numismatic research, including work focusing on archaeology, economic history and scientific analysis.

 

Up to Wado¯ kaichin

The first coins to reach Japan, albeit not in large quantities, were Chinese. These were the banliang 半両 and wuzhu 五銖 of the Former Han dynasty (206 bc–25 ad) and coins issued during the reign of Wang Mang (r. 8–23 ad), all of which reached Japan in the first centuries of the 1st millennium. Coins of these types have been found at sites all over Japan, but since, at the time of the importation of these coins, Japan was not sufficiently developed socially for coins to be used as currency, it is generally supposed that they were treated as precious objects while rice and cloth served as the real media of exchange. Although archaeologists often use coins to date sites, these early Chinese coins pose a number of problems. Banliang and wuzhu coins were issued over a long period, thus making precise dating very difficult. On the other hand, Wang Mang’s coins were issued only during the short period of his reign, and therefore look more promising as dating evidence. However, Wang Mang’s round coins (in particular the huoquan貨泉 coins) remained in circulation for a long time, and the general opinion now is that while these coins can help to determine a terminus post quem, any suggested dating must be corroborated with other evidence. To a large extent, this is true for most of the round copper alloy coins with square holes that are found all over East Asia.

The first coins to be produced in Japan were the mumonginsen 無文銀銭, a descriptive name given to these ‘silver coins without inscription’, and the early copper coins known as Fuhonsen 富本銭, both dating from the late 7th century. It needs hardly be said that Japan’s path to ‘civilization’ at the time involved not only the introduction from China of political and legal systems such as those embodied in the Ritsuryō codes of Japan, but also the introduction of China’s advanced systems of economic organization, including currency, weights and measures. The blank mumon-ginsen were pieces of silver bullion, of about 95% purity, cut into circular shapes with a round hole in the centre. They have so far been unearthed only in a dozen or so locations and little is known about the way they were used or about their monetary character. Some specimens have small pieces of silver attached to the blank coins, which suggests that they were designed to weigh one quarter of a ryō (around 10g) and thus to function as a currency based on the weight of the silver. They were therefore quite different from the cast round copper coins with a square hole in the centre. The archaeological contexts in which the mumonginsen coins have been found indicate that there can be no doubt that they date to the late 7th century, although it is not clear whether they preceded or followed the production of Fuhonsen. If it turns out to be the case that the mumon-ginsen were the first coins to be produced in Japan, it will be a very significant development, for it will indicate that Japan’s early currency did not only consist of imitations of Chinese coinage. There are no examples of these early mumon-ginsen in the British Museum collection.

The archaeological site at Asukaike in Nara Prefecture has yielded sufficient material to make it clear that many crafts were practised there, involving not only work with precious metals but also jade and glass. The discovery there of Fuhonsen upset the established view of Japanese coin history which had considered Japan’s oldest coins to be the Wadō kaichin. The Fuhonsen were found, along with smelting furnaces, furnace pokers, incomplete castings and other items connected with the casting of coins, in an excavation conducted to the highest standards by the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Nara. Evidence of dating is provided by texts written on the wooden tablets (mokkan 木簡) found at the same site and there can be no doubt that these finds date from the late 7th century. In the 8th-century Chronicles of Japan (Nihon shoki 日本書紀) there is an entry for the 12th year of Tenmu (683) concerning the use of copper coins and a ban on the use of silver coins. This passage had hitherto been difficult to interpret, but the discovery of Fuhonsen provides a suitable explanation and these coins are now considered to be the oldest government-issued coins in Japanese history. The metal composition of the Fuhonsen is also of interest, for it has been established that they were made with an alloy of copper and antimony. A bronze alloy made of copper, lead and tin was in use from the Yayoi period for casting mirrors and other objects, but it remains a puzzle why this was not used for Japan’s first coins and why an alloy of copper and antimony was used instead.

The British Museum collection includes three Fuhonsen which formerly belonged to the daimyo collector Kutsuki Masatsuna (1750–1802) (Cat. no. 1–3). From the late 17th century, when coin collecting first became common in Japan, Fuhonsen have been considered as charms rather than money. Indeed, it is clear, from the discovery of nine Fuhonsen and nine jade beads in a ditch dug in 692 to pacify the spirits of the soil where the palace at Fujiwara-kyō was to be built, that these coins were being used for non-monetary purposes. However, the large amount of slag found with the Fuhonsen coins at the Asukaike site suggests that as many as 10,000 were cast there. The notion that they were coins rather than charms has thus become more widely accepted, but the debate continues. The late 7th century is precisely the period in which the Japanese state was being formed, when the Fujiwara-kyō palace was being built, the Ritsuryō law codes were being introduced and the Japanese words for ‘Japan’ and ‘Emperor’ were coming into use. So the production and use of coinage might have represented the assertion of the newly emergent Japanese state vis-à-vis China.

 

 

Early coinage in Japan

Until recently it was thought that Japan’s oldest coins were the Wadō kaichin coins, produced in 708. In the second month of that year the office of Master of the Mint (Saijusenshi 催鋳銭司) was established, in the fifth month Wadō kaichin silver coins (Cat. no. 4) were produced and then in the eighth month Wadō kaichin copper coins (Cat. no. 5–15) were minted. The fact that the silver coins were minted before the copper coins is probably connected with the earlier existence of mumon-ginsen. Indeed, it is likely that the production of silver coins was a trial effort preparatory to the production of copper coins. At that time, one Wadō kaichin copper coin was equivalent to a day’s wages for a construction labourer and it can therefore be argued that Wadō kaichin copper coins were minted partly in order for the state to be able to pay the expenses of constructing the new capital city at Heijō-kyō (Nara). When one takes account of the facts that the government was at the same time establishing markets in the capital and issuing regulations granting honours to those who accumulated stocks of coinage (Chikusen joirei 蓄銭叙位令) and that more than 5,000 coins have been found at sites all over Japan, there can be no doubt that Wadō kaichin coins functioned as a form of currency. However, more than half of these finds have come from Heijō-kyō and the surrounding area and it appears likely that the Wadō kaichin coins found at sites some distance from Heijō-kyō can be associated only with outposts of the central government. The distribution of the Wadō kaichin coins reflects the extent to which they functioned as a currency and thus indicates that they were not in circulation throughout the whole of Japan. Since they circulated at a value that was in excess of their inherent metal value, it was not long before Japan was awash with privatelyminted coins and imitations, as is evident from government prohibitions on private minting. It should also be mentioned that Wadō kaichin coins did not function only as currency but were also used for non-monetary purposes, such as burial offerings and in prayers for the health and safety of a child (when they were placed in placenta jars).

Between 708, when the Wadō kaichin coins were first minted, and 958, when the Kengen taihō 乹元大宝 coins were minted, 12 different types of copper coinage were issued by the central government. These have generally been considered to be Japan’s oldest coins, but the discovery of the Fuhonsen and the recognition that some early coins were made of gold or silver have transformed our understanding of Japan’s early coinage. Ultimately, by the middle of the 10th century, too many difficulties had come to the fore to make the continued production of coinage possible: there were policy failures, such as the decision to assign to new issues a value that was 10 times the value of the previous coinage, which from modern economic perspectives seems certain to have encouraged inflation. Furthermore, the supply of copper was gradually exhausted, leading to a decline in the quantity of coinage issued and the replacement of coins with rice and cloth. Many specimens of the Engi coinage of 907 and the Kengen coinage of 958 have a reduced copper content, testifying to these problems.

Let us now look in more detail at the coins of ancient Japan, in the order in which they were minted. These all have a fourcharacter inscription, reading clockwise from the top.

The Wadō kaichin coins were clearly modelled on the Kaiyuan tongbao 開元通寳 coins which were first minted in China in 621; this is evident from their diameter of 24mm, their weight of 3.75g and the arrangement of the four characters around the central square hole. There is some doubt about how the last character in the inscription 和同開珎 is to be read, Wadō kaichin or Wadō kaihō, with the scholarly consensus currently being Wadō kaichin .This is because 珎 is a variant form of the character 珍, which is read chin, while its use as an abbreviated form of the character 寳, read hō, is not attested at this time. Some scholars make a distinction between ‘new’ and ‘old’ Wadō kaichin coins based on the different forms of the third character in the inscription. This distinction does not apply to the silver coins, while in the case of the copper coins there are very few ‘old’ ones (Cat. no. 6) and far more ‘new’ ones (Cat. no. 8, 10, 15). The metallic composition is also different, for the ‘old’ ones contain some antimony, which is probably a relic of the casting process used for the Fuhonsen coins.

Mannen tsūhō 万年通寳 copper coins (Cat. no. 16–28) were minted in 760 when Fujiwara Nakamaro wielded de facto power. Gold coins with the inscription Kaigi shōhō 開基勝寳and silver coins with the inscription Taihei genpō 大平元寳were also minted at this time. Each silver coin was assigned the value of 10 copper coins, and each gold coin the value of 10 silver coins. One Kaigi shōhō coin was discovered near the Saidaiji temple outside Nara in the Edo period, and another 31 were discovered in 1937. As yet no examples of Taihei genpō coins have come to light. The Mannen tsūhō coins were issued during a short period of just five years, and in 765, after Fujiwara Nakamaro had lost power, Jingō kaihō 神功開寳 coins were minted (Cat. no. 29–39). Thus, in the Nara period three kinds of copper coins were issued: Wadō kaichin, Mannen tsūhō and Jingō kaihō. In 779 an edict was issued which declared that they were of equal value. This suggests that the three cointypes were in circulation together and that the populace was distinguishing between the different types, with some coins circulating at a premium or discount rate. Indeed, coin finds often include all three types. To give an indication of prices in the 8th century, one masu of sake cost one mon (ie, one copper coin) and a long-necked jar cost 10 mon.

 

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In 795 the move to the new capital of Heian-kyō (modern Kyoto) was completed, and a new copper coinage was issued in the following year, with the inscription Ryūhei eihō 隆平永寳(Cat. no. 40–54). It is significant that the sovereign, Kanmu, in his reforms of the governmental system, not only changed the capital but also produced a new coinage. The Ryūhei eihō coins are clearly modelled on the Wadō kaichin coins, but are slightly smaller in size and lighter in weight. Hereafter there was a rapid reduction in the size of Japanese copper coins. Ryūhei eihō and subsequent coins were each supposed to be worth 10 of their predecessors, an intention also seen in earlier coinages, but again there is some doubt about the practical consequences. Furthermore, the smaller number of coins of the later Heian period that have been unearthed suggests that a smaller quantity of coins was being issued at this time.

 

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In 818 Fuju shinpō 富寿神寳 copper coins were minted (Cat. no. 55–62). The British Museum collection includes a mastercoin of this type (Cat. no. 57). (In Japanese, such pieces are known as 'mother-coins', in the sense that the mother can produce more coins.) Although the coin-moulds were formed by impressing a master-coin into clay, very few master-coins from early Japan have survived, so this is a considerable rarity. Only one early master-coin is known in Japan: the Wadō kaichin master-coin in the collection of the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

In 835 Jōwa shōhō 貞和昌寳 coins were minted (Cat. no. 63–66). These were followed in turn by Chōnen taihō 長年大寳coins in 848 (Cat. no. 67–69), by Nyōyaku shinpō 饒益神寳coins in 859 (Cat. no. 70–72), by Jōgan eihō 貞観永寳 coins in 870 (Cat. no. 73–81), by Kanpyō taihō 寛平大寳 coins in 890 (Cat. no. 82–87), by Engi tsūhō 延喜通寳 coins in 907 (Cat. no. 88–91) and by Kengen taihō 乹元大寳 coins in 958 (Cat. no. 92–94). The Kengen taihō were much reduced in size, with a diameter of only 18mm, and many specimens contain a substantial quantity of lead.

 

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Where were coins minted in this early period of Japan’s history? The sites known at present are Okada, Kadono, Tahara and Kawachi, which all lie in the area around Nara, and the provinces of Suō and Nagato in southwestern Japan. These mints were managed by officials despatched from the capital and were under state control. Most of the copper used in coinage came from the Naganobori mine in Nagato, and it is now known, from the archaeological discovery of coin moulds, that the Nagato mint was in the vicinity of what is now the Kakuonji temple in Chōfu, Shimonoseki.

While the three types of copper coin issued in the Nara period probably circulated mostly in and around Nara, when it comes to the Heian period the smaller quantities of coin-finds raise doubts about the extent to which they functioned as currency at all. At this time Japan had not developed to the point at which metallic coins were really necessary; it was not until the 12th century that there was a real need for coins.

 

 

The circulation of medieval coinage

For a period of about 150 years from the second half of the 10th century onwards, no coins were minted in Japan. Instead, rice, silk and hemp were used as media of exchange, as is clear from land-sale records and other documents surviving from that period. This was a time of considerable change as the fighting men known to us as the samurai came to the ascendant. In the middle of the 12th century copper coins were imported from China and coins once more began to circulate in Japan. Taxation documents relating to the economically powerful landed estates known as shōen indicate, for example, that coins were used in payment of taxes in place of rice. The imported coins consisted of dozens of different types minted in China, particularly during the Tang (618–907) and Song (960–1279) dynasties. Coins of the Northern Song (960–1127) predominate, with the most commonly found types being the Kaiyuan tongbao 開元通寳 (issued from 621), Huang Song tongbao 皇宋通寳 (issued from 1039), Xining yuanbao 煕寧元寳(1068–77), Yuanfeng tongbao 元豊通寳 (issued from 1078), and Yuanyou tongbao 元祐通寳 (issued 1086–93). Hongwu tongbao洪武通寳 (issued from 1368) and Yongle tongbao 永楽通寳(1403–24) of the Ming dynasty were also used in Japan. These coin-types constitute the bulk of coins contained in the earliest hoards found in Japan, and the composition of the hoards has much to tell us about the coins in circulation. The hoards consist of between several thousands and several tens of thousands of coins placed inside a clay vessel or wooden box and then buried for safety. In medieval Japan, it was common for 97 copper coins to be strung together as a group, and 10 of these (970 coins) formed a unit called a kanmon. This is similar to the Chinese ‘string’ (guan 貫) of 1,000 coins.

Trade with China was becoming increasingly important for Japan, and in the 14th century shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu was particularly keen to promote trade with Ming China. There was no strong central government in Japan at that time, and consequently no central office with the authority to issue coins. Imports from China were paid for in Chinese coin, hence the importance for Japan of the vast quantities of coins imported from China. To give an example of the scale of the movement of coins, in 1323 a ship set sail from Ningbo in southeastern China bound for Hakata in northern Kyushu, but sank off the coast of Korea. Marine archaeologists working on the wreck established that the cargo of this one ship included 28 tonnes of coins, around 8 million coins. The reliable supply of coins from China had the effect of making it unnecessary for Japan to produce its own coins. Furthermore, coins had also become essential for Japanese merchants who were increasingly embroiled in trade far beyond Japan ’s shores. Thus, Chinese coins (and imitations) were being used throughout East Asia, including what is now Vietnam, by Japanese merchants. Meanwhile in China, from the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) onwards paper money and silver ingots were being increasingly used in larger monetary transactions.

It was not, however, the case that no coins were being produced at all in Japan. A demand for coins was growing in medieval Japan as production and commercial activity were on the rise and the existing supply of coins was proving insufficient to cope with rising levels of economic activity. The answer was to make copies of existing coins, and evidence of coin-casting in the largest cities of medieval Japan – Kyoto, Kamakura, Hakata and Sakai – has been unearthed by archaeologists in recent years. In 16th-century Sakai, for example, not only were copies of Chinese coins being made, but also coins without an inscription: the so-called mumonsen (無文銭 ‘coins without inscription’) (Cat. no. 97–98). It is revealing that 85% of the medieval moulds found to date were for the production of mumonsen. As a result of the proliferation of unofficial coins, mumonsen and broken coins, it became increasingly necessary to discriminate between the various types in circulation by inspecting each coin tendered and rejecting those that did not pass muster. This practice, although dictated by the growing variety, and variation in quality, of coins in circulation, was not good for economic stability, and the authorities therefore issued a list of coins that were not to be accepted. As far as can be determined, the first law relating to such coin discrimination was issued in 1485 by the Ōuchi daimyo in south-western Honshu. Several similar laws were subsequently passed by the weak central government, and towards the end of the 16th century the warlord Oda Nobunaga issued an edict under which coins in poor condition were not to be rejected but accepted at a reduced value. Given the overall short supply of coins, this was a measure designed to keep as many of them in circulation as possible. The somewhat chaotic monetary conditions inevitably led to a decline in confidence in the currency and, as a result, rice became once again an important medium of exchange. Rice was a crop grown all over Japan, was essential as food during military campaigns and was a daily necessity for most people. The development in the early 17th century of a system of taxation which required taxes to be paid in the form of rice is an eloquent testimony to the lasting monetary functions of rice.

By the end of the 16th century rice and copper coins were supplemented by gold and silver for high-value transactions, as the diaries of members of the aristocracy show. Gold nuggets had been found in northern Honshu from ancient times but now gold and silver mines were being opened and were producing precious metals that could be used as currency. By this time bills of exchange were also coming into use in Japan to facilitate commercial transactions. So, by the end of the 16th century commercial and economic activity were such that copper coins were insufficient both in quantity and in value.

Recent research has revealed much about the metal composition of the imitation Chinese coins mentioned above. Copper coins in East Asia are generally made of three metals – copper, tin and lead – but in China in the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279) the proportion of tin declined. In Japan, too, tin was in short supply so many imitation coins were made of a copper-lead alloy. Some coins have a very high copper content (almost pure copper); such coins are less durable and the inscription is less sharp. Hence the emergence of coins which either had unclear inscriptions or, in the case of mumonsen, no inscription at all, particularly in the 16th century when Japan’s medieval period was drawing to a close. It is from this period that much of the archaeological evidence dates, including moulds for casting mumonsen found at Sakai and mumonsen coins found in northern Honshu and southern Kyushu.

What is now Okinawa Prefecture and an integral part of Japan was until the 19th century the independent kingdom of Ryūkyū. Three types of copper coinage were minted there: the Kin’en sehō 金円世寳 (Cat. no. 99–102), the Taisei tsūhō 大世通寳 (Cat. no. 103) and the Sekō tsūhō 世高通寳 (Cat. no. 104– 107). However, there is no documentary evidence to prove that they were produced in the Ryūkyū kingdom and so some doubts remain. In the case of the Taisei tsūhō and Sekō tsūhō, it appears that they were made by taking Chinese Yongle tongbao永樂通寳 coins, removing the two characters Yongle 永樂 and replacing them with the characters for Taisei and Sekō respectively, the characters for tongbao 通寳 being the same as those for tsūhō.

 

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The British Museum collection includes some coins which belong to a category known as shimasen 島銭 (‘island coins’). This is not a reliable term and is used merely as a label of convenience to refer to unofficial, imitation or fantasy coins that were clearly not of standard issue (Cat. no. 143–308). Although these coins sometimes have inscriptions it is not known where or when they were made. Some appear to have been made in imitation of Japanese or Chinese coins; others are quite unique in appearance and may even have been produced to excite the interest of coin collectors once coin collecting became fashionable in the 18th century.

 

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The transition to the early modern period

The last decades of the 16th century brought an end to over a hundred years of internecine warfare and led to the emergence of an effective and unified government after a hiatus of more than a century. As a consequence, the landed estates belonging to members of the aristocracy and large religious institutions disappeared and land ownership passed into the hands of the samurai class. There were also major changes in the currency system.

Let us first consider the gold and silver coinage of this period. Several of the daimyo of the 15th and 16th centuries put considerable energy into the development of gold and silver mines, amongst them Takeda Shingen, and the Ōuchi, Amako and Mōri daimyo were engaged in a bitter struggle for the Iwami silver mine. In fact, the development and possession of mines producing precious metals that could be used as currency were essential for the survival of daimyo during the internecine warfare of those centuries. Daimyo were desperate to exploit the mineral resources in their domains but it was only in the 16th century that fully-fledged mining activity developed. Archaeological investigations have shown that the Kurokawa gold mine (in modern Yamanashi Prefecture) began operations around 1530 and continued to yield gold until the middle of the 17th century. Gold had long been in use in the form of nuggets but the large-scale production that was now taking place led to the appearance of gold ingots in the shape of circular pebbles, known as goishikin 碁石金 (‘gold Go counters’) because of their resemblance to the counters used in the game of Go. A gold piece excavated at Kitamuro-machi in Nara has features that suggest the production of pieces of gold in fixed weights by this time. It would seem, then, that by the 16th century gold pieces of particular weight were already being considered a form of currency.

The Iwami silver mine ended up in the hands of the Mōri daimyo. In 1533 a Hakata merchant named Kamiya Jutei accompanied a Ming technician to the mine and the new technique they introduced led to a dramatic increase in production. This new technique involved melting the silver ore with an admixture of lead so as to produce an alloy of lead and silver. When this was poured on to bone ash the lead was extracted leaving lumps of silver. For about 100 years from the middle of the 16th century production of silver in Japan was on a very large scale, commensurate with that of central and southern America. This was partly due to the fact that Japan was being drawn more and more into world trading networks; in particular, there was a high demand in China and Portugal for silver, and Japan traded large quantities of silver for raw silk thread from China. Also, from the middle of the 16th century, and possibly earlier, gold and silver were increasingly being used as a domestic currency within Japan. As the Ikuno silver mine and the gold mines of Echigo and Suruga began production, the currency circulating within each domain began to assume its own individual characteristics. In western Japan, which was geographically well placed for the conduct of trade with China and elsewhere, silver mines tended to predominate, while in eastern Japan there were more gold mines. Thus, silver was more likely to be used as currency in western domains and gold in eastern ones. This difference persisted into the Edo period, when it was said that gold was used in the east and silver in the west.

There was also an east-west division when it came to copper coinage. Yongle tongbao coins of the Ming dynasty were in wide circulation in the east, while Northern Song coins were more likely to be found in the west. Similarly, it has recently been discovered that Hongwu tongbao coins and mumonsen circulated extensively in the north of Honshu and in Kyushu. This suggests that separate economic zones were forming within Japan.

Before the emergence of gold and silver currency, copper coins had been the main currency in Japan. Now a new system was developing, based on the three metals. There were attempts to limit the diversity of currency in the various domains and serious attempts to unify the currency system began with Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu at the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th. Hideyoshi issued a gold coin called the Tenshō ōban 天正大判, containing 73% gold and weighing 165g, which was used for bestowing rewards. He also issued a number of silver coins, including the Tenshō tsūhō 天正通寳 (Cat. no. 309–311) and Bunroku tsūhō 文禄通寳 (Cat. no. 313–314), and these, along with the Daikan tsūhō 大観通寳 (Cat. no. 125), may well have been intended for use as rewards rather than as currency per se. Before assuming the post of shogun in 1603, Ieyasu had restored order to the currency used in his domain. After 1603, perceiving that the Yongle tongbao coins were the standard coins used in the east where he located his headquarters but that different coin-types were in circulation in other parts, he turned his attention to currency matters throughout Japan.

Earlier, Ieyasu had taken control of Kai province after the fall of the Takeda daimyo and he is said to have used Kai gold to mint koban 小判 coins. However, the Taikō enbukin 太閤円歩金gold coins of this period are remarkably similar to Western coins and may well have been made as a result of contact with Europeans, who had begun to visit Japan in the middle of the 16th century. They carry the personal signature of Gotō Mitsutsugu, who was a follower of Ieyasu, and thus may have been made at the orders of Ieyasu himself.

 

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The currency system in the early modern period

The government of the Tokugawa shoguns instituted a system of three independent currencies based on gold, silver and copper coinage. In 1608 the use of Chinese Yongle tongbao coins was prohibited and in the following year the government stipulated the relative values of the various types of coinage in circulation as follows: 1 gold ryō = 1,000 Yongle tongbao coins (although prohibited they were evidently still in use) = 4,000 Southern Song copper coins = 50 silver monme (in 1700 this was adjusted to 60 monme). These were the official rates of exchange, but in practice the rates varied day by day, and each component of the currency system had a life of its own, being used predominantly by certain classes of people or in certain districts. Goods might be priced in gold, silver or copper, depending on the nature of the goods. Precisely because there were three currency systems operating in parallel, moneychanging was an indispensable form of economic activity, and a body of professional money-changers emerged. Thus in the early 17th century the whole of Japan was brought under the same currency regime, at a relatively early stage when considered in the light of the global history of currency. This would not have happened without the growth in the domestic production of precious metals, but a further stimulating factor was the chaotic variation in currency use between the many daimyo domains in 16th-century Japan.

The year after achieving mastery over Japan in the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1601 issued Keichō gold and silver coins, which took their name from the Keichō era (1596–1615) during which they were produced. Given the economic circumstances prevailing at the time, establishing a high-value currency was the highest priority. The introduction of these high-value coins had an immediate impact in terms of the money supply. In addition to the gold and silver coins, copper coins were also issued at this time: the Keichō tsūhō 慶長通寳 coins (Cat. no. 315–325). However, there is no documentary record showing that the Bakufu, the government of the Tokugawa shoguns, issued these coins. It is probable that either a wealthy merchant or a daimyo produced them, adapting the inscription on the Chinese Yongle tongbao coins by replacing the first two characters with the characters for Keichō. Keichō tsūhō coins have been found, albeit in small quantities, all over Japan, so a considerable quantity must have been produced, although not sufficient to threaten the predominance of imported Chinese copper coins in the copper currency of the period. In the following Genna era (1615–24) some Genna tsūhō 元和通寳 coins were minted (Cat. no. 326– 329), but since not one has yet been found in an archaeological excavation there is some doubt as to whether they were ever in circulation. It was not until the Kan’ei era (1624–44) that the Bakufu seriously set about producing a copper coinage for Japan with the minting in 1636 of Kan’ei tsūhō 寛永通寳 coins.

The Tokugawa Bakufu established separate mints for the production of gold, silver and copper coins. In 1601 Ieyasu ordered Ōkuro Tsunenao to establish a silver mint (ginza) in Fushimi, south of Kyoto, which was immediately set to work producing silver coins. Another silver mint was established in Suruga province; this was later transferred to Kyoto and then to Edo, with branches in Osaka and Nagasaki. In the same year the gold mint in Edo, under the control of Gotō Shōjirō Mitsutsugu, began to produce koban and ichibuban一分判(‘1-bu plaque’) gold coins. Outside Edo gold mints were also established in Kyoto, Suruga and Sado. For the production of gold coins a system of quadruple values was adopted, following the system formerly used in the province of Kai, whereby one ryō equals four bu and one bu equals four shu. At that time ryō and shu were measures of weight (1 shu = 3.75g), but from the 17th century they became units of currency. Gold coins had been produced in Kai since the 16th century and, exceptionally, they continued to be produced by the Matsuki family until the 1820s for use only within the Kai domain.

The Kan’ei tsūhō copper coinage of the Tokugawa Bakufu was the most prolific coinage in pre-modern Japan, and is well represented in the British Museum collection. In 1636 the Bakufu established copper mints in Edo and in Sakamoto in Ōmi province, and commenced the production of Kan’ei tsūhō coins. In order to respond to the growing demand for low-value copper coins and to ensure standardization, the Bakufu provided samples of the standards to which new coins were to conform and ordered that copper coins be minted in the eight daimyo territories of Mito, Sendai, Mikawa Yoshida, Echizen Takada, Matsumoto, Okayama, Nagato and Bungo Nakagawa. The actual production was done on a contract base in these cases, and a tax was payable to the Bakufu by the contractors in proportion to the amount produced. Production of Kan’ei tsūhō began in these domains in 1637. In order to conserve the supply of copper the Bakufu prohibited it from being exported. Controlled management of the production brought stability to the copper currency, so in 1640 production of Kan’ei tsūhō coins was temporarily suspended. In 1643 the Bakufu issued a prohibition on private and illegal minting of copper coins, which suggests that such practices were in fact going on. Shortages of copper coins occurred again, so from 1656 over a period of four years a total of 300,000 Kan’ei tsūhō coins were minted at Torigoe in Edo and another 200,000 at Kutsunoya in Suruga. Although the Kan’ei era had ended in 1644, the inscription on the new coins did not change. Indeed, the Kan’ei tsūhō inscription remained in use for decades.

Kan’ei tsūhō coins can be roughly divided into ‘old’ and ‘new’ types. The ‘old’ type refers to the Kan’ei tsūhō coins minted before the 1650s. The first of the ‘new’ type Kan’ei tsūhō coins were the 1,970,000 coins minted from 1668 over a period of 16 years at Kameido in Edo. As these have the inscription bun文 of the Kanbun 寛文 era (1661–73) on the reverse, they are often known as Bunsen 文銭. They became accepted as a standard unit, to the point that the length of socks was measured in Bunsen coins. From 1697 onwards more ‘new’ Kan’ei tsūhō coins were minted all over Japan, and from 1739 iron Kan’ei tsūhō coins were also being produced. Some of the ‘new’ Kan’ei tsūhō coins have a single character inscription on the reverse standing for the mint at which they were produced. More than 20 mints are named in this way.

In 1768 Tanuma Okitsugu, the de facto holder of political power, had a new kind of coin minted in brass at Ginza (‘Silver Mint’) in Edo. These coins still bore the Kan’ei tsūhō inscription, but had a value of 4 mon, in other words of four Kan’ei tsūhō copper coins. Brass coins made from an alloy of copper and zinc had been manufactured in China from the late Ming dynasty onwards but this was the first time they had been manufactured in Japan, probably because zinc was not available in Japan and had to be imported. From this point on, the contract system for the minting of copper coins came to an end and the Ginza in Edo had a monopoly over the production of four-mon Kan’ei tsūhō brass coins. Although worth four mon each, they weighed only 4.9g. These coins had a wave pattern on the reverse, consisting in 1768 of 21 waves and thereafter of only 11 waves. As iron coins were liable to rust and so became difficult to use, these high-value brass coins which shone like gold when new were swiftly accepted. The British Museum collection contains many Kan’ei tsūhō coins, including some in silver and some which carry numerals on the reverse. The latter were not intended for use as currency but seem to have been used as gifts to commemorate the opening of a new mint.

Hōei tsūhō coins were minted in 1708, the fifth year of the Hōei era (1704–11), at Shichijō in Kyoto. They had a value of 10 mon and weighed 9.4g (the Kan’ei tsūhō 1-mon coins weighed 3.75g). However, they did not prove popular and were withdrawn from circulation the following year. This was probably because when paying large sums in copper coinage, strings of 97 1-mon copper coins were reckoned to constitute 100 mon, whereas 10 of the new 10-mon coins were required to make up 100 mon, and thus involved a greater expenditure.

In 1835, the sixth year of the Tenpō era (1830–44), the Bakufu ordered the gold mint to produce Tenpō tsūhō 天保通寳coins with a value of 100 mon in an alloy of copper, tin and lead. These were oval in shape, had a square hole in the middle, and had an inscription on the reverse reading tōhyaku 當百(‘equivalent to 100’), and a stylised signature. Although valued at 100 mon these coins weighed only 20.6g and so served to increase the money supply without consuming much metal. In 1863, the third year of the Bunkyū era (1861–64), a new copper coin was issued: the Bunkyū eihō 文久永寳 4-mon coin, which had a pattern of 11 waves on the reverse. These coins were manufactured at the gold and silver mints. They were considerably lighter than the Kan’ei tsūhō 4-mon coins minted previously, the reduced weight reflecting the substantial rise in the price of copper that had taken place.

The gold coins of this period were not cast but were forged from gold sheets that had been cut up into pieces of a determined weight and then stamped with a pattern. The Suruga koban and Musashi koban gold coins, which Ieyasu is said to have had made before assuming the position of shogun in 1603, have an inscription stating their value of one ryō and a stylised signature handwritten in black ink directly on to the gold. This had the obvious disadvantage that the inscription would wear away and disappear with use and it was remedied in the Keichō koban, which carried the same inscription, a signature and a paulownia crest this time all stamped into the gold, rendering it more suited to use as currency. On the obverse of koban gold coins a rush-mat pattern was hammered around the inscription, the signature and the crest, but the reverse was left smooth and plain. Production was entrusted to Gotō Mitsutsugu, whose original name was Hashimoto but who had been adopted by the Gotō family of goldsmiths and had come to Edo; there he became Superintendant of Gold under Ieyasu and was engaged in the production of koban and ichibuban (‘1-bu plaque’). His descendants took the same name and continued in this role. The Keichō koban weighed 18g and consisted of 86% gold and 14% silver. The ichibuban was worth a quarter of a koban and weighed one quarter of a koban.

The British Museum collection includes two Keichō koban (Cat. no. 106–107) which carry the image of a lion stamped between the inscription and the signature of Mitsutsugu. One of them has a very dense rush-mat pattern. The other has the lion image inverted, showing that the person making the impression with hammer and stamp may not have understood the writing on the coin. Both coins were imported by the Dutch East India Company in Batavia (modern Jakarta) for its own use, hence the stamped mark of the Company’s lion symbol on the coins. These are rare pieces, with the only other known examples being in collections in The Hague and Milan. It would appear that any other examples were melted down for gold at some stage.

The larger Keichō ōban were, like the Tenshō ōban before them, made primarily for the purpose of giving gifts and rewards. Like the Tenshō ōban, they weighed 165g, but had a reduced gold content of only 68%. They have a handwritten inscription reading ‘ten ryō’ , used here as a measure of weight rather than a unit of currency. When used as currency the Tenshō ōban had a value of 7 ryō 2 bu, reflecting its actual gold content.

In the course of the Edo period, after the Keichō era mintings, ōban were minted four times, in the Genroku (1688– 1704), Kyōhō (1716–36), Tenpō (1830–44) and Man’en (1860– 61) eras, while koban were minted in the Genroku, Hōei (1704– 11), Shōtoku (1711–16), Kyōhō, Genbun (1736–41), Bunsei (1818–30), Tenpō, Ansei (1854–60) and Man’en eras. The first reminting was carried out by Ogiwara Shigehide in the 8th year of the Genroku era (1695), and the Genroku koban had a reduced gold content of only 56%. Hitherto, gold had been refined and used to mint gold coins in various places, which were then submitted to Gotō, the Superintendant of Gold, for quality control; only after that were they released for circulation. From 1695 onwards, however, all the operations were carried out on one site and under the supervision of the Superintendant of Finances (Kanjō bugyō); the Bakufu was clearly tightening its control over the whole process. The declining quantities of gold coins that were minted indicate the Bakufu’s inability to maintain a steady supply of gold coinage. This was due to the Bakufu’s worsening financial situation; the advantage of reminting for the Bakufu was that, by reducing the gold content, it could gain financially from the process. There was an advantage to the gold mint, too, for the mint derived an income of 1% of the value of the coins it produced. Bankers (ryōgaeya 両替屋) benefited as well because the reminting necessitated currency exchange facilities: the old and the new gold coins contained different amounts of gold and hence were of different value in the market.

Part of the problem was the decline in the amounts of gold and silver produced, but another factor was the exodus of gold and silver to pay for the imports brought to Japan by the Dutch East India Company. As a result deflation set in and prices began to fall; as the price of rice fell, so the purchasing power of the samurai, whose salaries were calculated in rice, fell in proportion. It may, therefore, be the case that the reminting of gold coins was intended as a measure to deal with deflation.

For economic stability an adequate supply of money was indispensable but as a result of the reminting of gold currency the supply of money increased dramatically. This in turn led to an inflationary situation and economic instability. Troubled by the inflation, the Bakufu decided to restore the percentage of gold used in the gold coinage to its previous level of over 80% purity. Thus the gold content of the Hōei koban was 83%, of the Kyōhō koban 85% and of the Shōtoku koban 86%. On the reverse of the high-value koban coins there are often the impressions of a number of small seals; these are thought to have been made by bankers (ryōgaeya) as guarantees of the authenticity and gold content of the coins. However, there was little that could be done about the declining supply of gold, and over the remainder of the Edo period both the gold content and weight of the koban declined, such that the Genbun (1736–41) koban contained only 65% gold, and the Ansei (1854–60) koban just 57%. Koban were often used in the form in which they left the mints or the banks, that is, wrapped in paper with a handwritten inscription on the outside testifying that the contents were gold. This indicates the extent to which the mints and banks were trusted; there was no need to investigate the contents.

Koban were made of an alloy of gold and silver, but the surface of these coins was made of gold, using a technique known as iroage. This involved steeping the minted coins in a mixture of saltpetre, resin, plum vinegar and ferrous nitrate and then baking them. They were then placed in water and when lightly brushed the silver on the surface would be removed so as to leave the surface of the coins a brilliant gold. The British Museum collection contains some koban which are silver in colour, but in these cases the coins originally contained a high percentage of silver and the effects of the iroage have worn off, and the surface has reverted to the colour of the alloy.

In addition to the ōban, koban and ichibukin coins, in the Genroku, Tenpō and Man’en eras nishukin 二朱金 (‘2-shu gold’) coins were minted, and so were isshukin 一朱金 (‘1-shu gold’) coins in the Bunsei, Ansei, Man’en and early Meiji eras. In 1837 a goryōban 五両判 (‘5-ryo plaque’) was also issued.

As mentioned above, in the early 17th century locally produced silver coins were circulating in many of the daimyo domains where silver deposits were being exploited. Some of these silver coins had a high silver content, but the Keichō chōgin 慶長丁銀 (‘Keichō silver’) coins, with a silver content of 80%, were somewhat inferior to the quality of the silver coins used for trade in East Asia at the time. The Bakufu therefore requisitioned all the domain-issued silver coinage and made efforts to establish a new silver currency.

A silversmith from Sakai named Yuasa Sakubei was employed to this end, and he took the name Daikoku Jōze as Superintendant of Silver. This was a hereditary post, as was that of the Gotō family at the gold mint. The chōgin and kodamagin 小玉銀 (‘small jewel silver; also known as mameitagin 豆板銀 ‘small flat silver’ or 'bean silver') silver coins he produced derived their value from their weight, in accordance with the long-standing tradition for the use of silver in western Japan. Chōgin had an elongated oval shape and were worth between 30 and 50 monme depending on the value of silver; they were made by pouring molten silver on to a piece of cloth immersed in hot water. On the obverse were characters indicating the year and the name of the Superintendant of Silver. Early examples were thin and some seem to have been cut into pieces of smaller value. As was the case with gold coins, high value silver coins often had the seals of bankers impressed upon them as a guarantee of their quality. The silver mint initially received an income of 3% of the silver coinage produced, but this later increased. Again, it was common for chōgin and kodamagin to be used while still wrapped in their paper packaging, like gold coins. Jōze’s signature on the wrapping was a sufficient guarantee of quality. These signed wrappers had to be paid for, and this was another source of income for the silver mint.

From the end of the 17th century the silver content began to decline: in the Genroku era it was 64%, and in the Hōei era the silver content of Futatsutama-gin coins was 50%, of Eiji-gin 40%, of Mitsutama-gin 32% and of Yotsutama-gin 20%. Thus, copper was the dominant metal in the alloy, and these coins barely merit the appellation ‘silver coinage’. Silver coins were often transported via Korea to China to pay for imported Chinese silk, but for this purpose the Hōei silver coins with their low silver content were unacceptable to the silk exporters so a special kind of silver coin known as Ninjindai ōkogin 人参代往古銀 (‘old silver to pay for ginseng’) was made with a higher silver content for international trading purposes. However, in the currency reforms of the Shōtoku and Kyōhō eras, which had also seen the gold content rise, the silver content of silver coins rose to 80%. As a consequence, the debased coinage of the Genroku and Hōei eras was recalled, with the result that relatively few have survived to this day. In the Genbun era the silver content fell again to 46%, followed by further falls in the Bunsei era to 36%, in the Tenpō era to 26% and in the Ansei era to merely 13%. Thus the silver coins, like the gold coins, shifted from a precious metal coinage with an intrinsic value to a more fiduciary coinage.

 

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In 1765 a new type of silver coin was produced, the 5-monme piece (Cat. no. 1197–1198). Since 1700 the official exchange rate between the gold and silver currencies had been one ryō to 60 monme, so 12 of these new coins could be exchanged for a koban worth 1 ryō. Since silver coins had hitherto been valued by weight, this was a revolutionary step towards making them a convertible currency, but the actual rate of exchange continued to fluctuate according to the changing market rate for silver so the measure was not as successful as had been intended.

In the light of this, the Bakufu in 1772 issued a new coin commonly referred to as a Nanryō nishugin 二朱銀 (‘2-shu silver’), although this was not their official denomination. This appellation came about because of the inscription which stated that eight of these coins were together worth 1 ryō, so they were known as nishugin (2-shu silver), even though they did not officially have this denomination. One ryō equalled 4 bu and 1 bu equalled 4 shu, hence one eighth of a ryō was 2 shu. In eastern Japan where gold currency was more widely in use than in western Japan where silver prevailed, the Nanryō nishugin proved to be a success, probably because of its higher silver content and its convertibility with gold. At this point one can begin to speak of a currency system in Japan in which silver was explicitly subordinated to gold. Nanryō nishugin coins were also issued in the Kansei (Cat. no. 1223–1224) and Bunsei eras (Cat. no. 1226–1228, 1211–1213); the Bunsei type being 25% lighter in weight. It was also in the Bunsei era that a 1-shu silver coin (isshugin, 一朱銀) was issued, 16 of which were exchangeable for one gold ryō, but since these did not even have half the weight of the Nanryō nishugin it is clear that their value as currency was increasingly at variance with their value as precious metal.

 

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In 1837 the Bakufu issued a silver coin with the denomination 1 bu clearly indicated (ichibugin, 一分銀, ‘1-bu silver’), even though hitherto 1-bu coins had only been made as gold currency. Similarly, in 1854 a 1-shu silver coin (isshugin, 一朱銀) was issued. These two cases demonstrate the increasing independence of the currency system from the value of the precious metals contained in the coins.

By 1854 Japan was becoming increasingly embroiled with the Western powers and was experiencing an outflow of gold specie. The reason for this was indubitably the differential between the gold-silver exchange rates used in Japan and the rest of the world, but how had such a differential come about? A key factor was the overwhelmingly domestic nature of Japanese trade in the Edo period, with international contacts strictly limited and under the control of the Bakufu. The gradual transformation of the Japanese silver coinage into a currency was also an important factor. In the mid-1850s an ichibugin (‘1-bu silver’) was worth only one-third of a silver dollar in terms of its silver content but enjoyed a higher face value. In other words, over the previous 100 years there had been a gradual reduction in the silver content of silver coins, and thus in their intrinsic precious metal value, to the extent that they were no longer comparable with foreign silver coins. The Bakufu gave in to pressure from the foreign powers to use not silver, but gold in payment for goods and services supplied from outside Japan. As an inevitable result there ensued an enormous flow of gold out of Japan. Some silver dollars bear a stamped mark stating that they were exchangeable for three ichibugin coins, so it is clear that the silver content was determining the exchange rate. The Bakufu became aware of this and later in the 1850s issued a nishugin coin with a greater weight of silver to pay for imports, but this was vigorously denounced by the foreign powers and lasted only 23 days in circulation. Eventually the Bakufu issued the Man’en koban in the early 1860s with just one-third the weight of gold content of earlier koban and this limited the damage caused by the outflow of gold specie. These difficulties faced by the Bakufu were caused by Japan’s exposure for the first time to the world currency system, and the inevitable difficulties of adjustment.

 

 

Local currency

While copper coinage was manufactured on a contract system, gold and silver coinage was produced under strict Bakufu control. As the Bakufu gradually became a less effective form of government in the first half of the 19th century, its authority was increasingly challenged by counterfeit currency. This is evident from the fact that when, in the early Meiji era, gold coins of the Tenpō era were recalled, the number handed in exceeded the number that had been minted by the gold mint in the 1830s.

The area known as Tōhoku, in northeastern Japan, is a region rich in mineral resources and many coin-types have been manufactured there at different times. From the 18th century onwards, the local domain authorities obtained permission from the Bakufu to produce coins for local use within the domain. Domains that were in a position to produce coinage generally sought permission to do so as a means of easing domain finances. A typical example is the Sendai tsūhō仙台通寶 copper coinage issued by the Sendai domain in 1784. The Sendai domain had previously been involved in the minting of the Kan’ei tsūhō coinage but in the 1780s the domain was given permission to mint coins for five years, the domain having claimed that the money was needed to help ameliorate the effects of the recent famine in northern Japan. Since they were minted in large numbers, they were in practice circulating outside the domain as well. Sendai tsūhō coins are of an unusual shape – square with rounded corners – and were made in three different sizes. The British Museum collection contains a tin master-coin of the large size as well as a number of examples of all three sizes (Cat. no. 1251–1268). The Akita domain in north-western Honshu was particularly rich in supplies of gold, silver and copper extracted from local mines, and the domain minted silver coins of various denominations (Cat. no. 1307–1309, 1274–1276) as well as copper coins which, with an oblong hole in the middle, resembled sword-guards (Cat. no. 1277–1280) and other coins, known as Dōzan shihō 銅山至寶 (Cat. no. 1296–1297), which had a high lead content.

 

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In 1856 the first coins to be minted in Hokkaido were produced in Hakodate, hence their name Hakodate tsūhō 函館通宝 coins. These were made of iron and had a round hole in the centre. The British Museum has a master-coin of this type (Cat. no. 1281). The Mito domain, which had been involved in the minting of the Kan’ei tsūhō coinage, also produced its own coins. The Satsuma domain produced Ryūkyū tsūhō 琉球通宝coins, purportedly to alleviate distress in the Ryūkyū kingdom, which was under the control of Satsuma (Cat. no. 1287–1294).

The new currency of the Meiji era

After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the new government continued to issue coins such as the nibukin, ichibugin, isshugin and Tenpō tsūhō and thus perpetuated the Bakufu’s system of coinage. However, in 1868 the British government closed down the Royal Mint that had been operating in Hong Kong for just two years, so the Meiji government bought the modern equipment that was installed there, shipped it to Japan, and in 1869 established the mint in Osaka. The buildings were designed by an Englishman, Thomas James Waters (1842–98), and the mint was operated by seven English employees. The new currency was designed, however, by Kanō Natsuo (1828– 98), an outstanding metal craftsman. In 1871 the government announced a change in the currency and the new currency was duly inaugurated. The complicated system of the Edo period was abandoned and replaced by a decimal system; the old ryō was redesignated 1 yen, which was worth 100 sen, each sen being worth 10 rin. This was the birth of the modern yen.

 

Conclusion

I have confined myself here to an account of Japan’s coinage before the modern period, but we should not forget that Japan’s first paper currency was produced in Ise in the early 17th century, that the oldest surviving domain paper currency was produced in Fukui in 1661 and that a large amount of paper money circulated in Japan in the Edo period, including bills of exchange. The British Museum collection contains many interesting examples of these various types of paper money (including hansatsu 藩札) as well as a large collection of the modern coinage of Japan from the Meiji period onwards.