Before arriving in Japan in 1990, I had collected coins. Not merely because I was poor, but rather because it was a way of understanding history.
In Canada, we're a young country, and as such, as a youth it was easy enough for me to build up a collection of coins dated between 1922 and the present without literally having to break the bank. Of course, I'm talking about the standard 1-, 5-, 10-, and 25-cent coinage. For 50-cent and $1 coins, a certain amount of bank-breaking might have been required.
At least I could look at my coins, read them and easily figure out when and where they were minted. Our history wasn't long enough for guess work to be required to be an avid collector. And... to the same extent, the same holds true to my American collection.
But here in Japan... maybe it's a cultural thing, but I rarely saw an old coin in circulation - and by that I mean something that might have been around for 30 years or more.
Heck... popping open my wallet today, I see a 1961 Canadian penny - 50 years old.
I said cultural, as in maybe the Japanese routinely pour through the coins and send it away for disposal by the bank or Mint so that only new, clean looking coins are in circulation.
I wanted to get my hands on some old Japanese coins... as kind of a greedy thing, yes, but also to give me something tangible to hold on to while I learned more about Japan's history.
One of the first things I bought was a triple boxed set of paperbacks on Japan's history - but sadly I sold it two years ago, not fully believing I would ever write these Wonderful Rife blogs. I read them all from cover to cover several times.
History, in fact... is why I wanted to come to Japan. Have I ever explained how I got here?
Back in February or so of 1990, I had an interview with the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Programme folks in downtown Toronto. During the interview I was asked why I wanted to go to Japan. Pretty standard stuff, eh? Well, I didn't really prepare for the interview - much like everything I do in rife. I said the first thing that came to mind - which rightly or wrongly, was how I felt.
I told them that I wanted to go to Japan to talk to people. I wanted to find out about who they really are. I wanted to ask an old-timer about the war (WWII) to get their side of things.
When I was told that was probably a very difficult thing to find out as the Japanese are kind of tight-lipped about their personal history, I said I don't mind. It's not something I'm just going to ask a stranger. I'll ask one of my friends.
They seemed to like the fact that I would respect the Japanese enough to want to become friends with them... that and the fact that I was/am a silver-tongued devil who can pretty much charm the pants off anyone (in a non-sexual way, of course). The sexual way would come later.
Anyhow... they obviously bought my sincerity, because that's what it was. It wasn't the cut and dried answer everybody gives about how they are looking forward to learning the language and culture et al. I wanted to talk to people.
And the JET Programme... they wanted people to talk to the Japanese. That's what the exchange was like - at least back in the early 1990s.
So... history intrigues me.
But... and I had no idea at the time, but Japanese coinage is a real bitch to figure out - especially the old stuff.
Here's what I've learned:
Back in the 1st Century AD, coins occasionally made their way into Japan from Korea and China. However, it wasn't until Japan and China established diplomatic relations that China exported it's T'ang coins to Japan back in 618 AD.
Japan only began minting its own coins in 708 AD. The coins minted are called the Wado Kaichin, as Wado means copper. The coins were only made after Japan discovered copper in Saitama-ken (Province of Saitama).
These first Japanese coins are similar to the Chinese ones, and were made in copper and later in silver. The first batch of coins minted was considered to be of poor quality so the Chinese were asked to come over and provide some advice.
Over 250 years from 708 A.D. to 958 A.D. the Japanese minted 12 different types of coins. In addition to copper coins, there was the Kaiki Shoho, which was gold, and the Taihei Genpo, which was silver.Apparently there is only one known Kaiki Shoho.
Still, despite the influx of coinage, it still wasn't a popular means of trade. Bartering was.
After 958 AD, no more coins were minted in Japan for about 600 years. As such, coins from China, Korea and Annam (Vietnam) were mixed in.
It was in the Tokugawa Period (1603 to 1868), that Japan began to mint coins a second time. With Japan united, and its borders ready to be closed to foreigners, a new cash system was required.
Small quantities were first minted in 1626 of Kan'ei Tsuuhou copper coins, followed by a larger mintage in 1636. The Tokugawa government ordered this mintage and then ordered it be distributed through private subcontractor coin manufacturers throughout the country - for proper distribution of the money. Apparently there were some 16 different mints manufacturing money for Japan.
So... how do you date a Japanese coin? You don't really. Coins manufactured between the 1600s up until Admiral Perry came in 1868 (when Japan opened its doors to foreigners) all look the same (excluding denominations, of course).
There are some variations... but to the casual observer, it all looks the same. Check out the 100 old Kan'ei Tsuuhou I own. Different colours, different widths, and on occasion, different markings. I'm not going to tell you how to tell your Japanese copper coins apart - that is better left to the experts - and even a quick perusal through the Internet, I am loathe to say who is an expert in the field.
Anyhow... just know that in 1868, after the Shogun and his military style of rule was put aside and the Emperor regained his status, as the be-all and end-all... (though military action was part of Japan's style back then) Japan set up a mint in Osaka and essentially introduced modern coinage to Japan. The YEN was established as the standard currency unit by the New Coinage Currency Act of 1871.
And the rest, as they say is history.
Somewhere the best things in life are free,
PS: Today's title is sung by The Beatles, but was not written by them... it was first sung by Barrett Strong in 1959 and was written by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford. Gordy would of course form Motown Records. HEAR it!
PS: The photo shows off some of my old Japanese coinage... the Kan'ei Tsuuhou coppers, an old silver and an old gold rectangle, and some other neat stuff. If anyone knows anything about them, I'd appreciate a heads up. Oh.. that dried straw... that was part of a rope belt that was strung through the centre of the copper coins - a money belt of sorts, and worn by someone from long ago. Unfortunately, it rotted and broke while in my possession.
PPS: The next blog will appear on February 2. Thank you for your patience while I settle back into the rhythm of things.