Visit the “Currency Museum” of Bank of Japan
- –Explore the history of monetary affairs and economic life of Japanese
During this summer I revisited the “Money Museum” of Bank of Japan (BOP) in, Nihonbashi, Tokyo after a long time. The museum is a major learning facility on the Japan’s currency and monetary issues. It was founded by Bank of Japan in 1985 to publicize its financial role and the development of monetary problems.
In the museum, the historical evolvement of Japanese monetary policies is introduced by showing various real coins and currencies from ancient times to the present.
The museum provides the theme-based exhibition, which illustrates the dynamic flow of the Japanese unique currency movement in detail with specific charts, documents and commentary panels, not only the display of money and coins.
My visit was quite short, but I could learn much about what kind of functions the “Money” has been bearing in the Japanese economic history and in the people’s social life. The following description is my impression of this visit.
Refer to : Home page of the “Currency Museum” : https://www.imes.boj.or.jp/cm/
♣ Outlook of the Currency Museum
The Exhibition hall facilitates five exhibition zones based on the particular themes. These are “the First Coins” (Ancient time money), “Inflow of Coins from overseas”, (Medieval time currency system), “Toward a Unification of Currency” (pre-modern Edo period currency system), “Money in People’s Lives” (Money usage pattern of Edo period), “The Era of the Yen and the Bank of Japan” (Shift to Modern currency) following the subsequent flow of time. They respectively indicate how “Money” and commercial business have been developing, and display the historical evidence of currency development and its changing features.
According to the museum explanation, the original collection of the antique coins and currencies was inherited from “Sen Hei Kan Collection” （“銭幣館”）of a great currency collector , Mr. Tanaka Takafumi and added the BOJ’s own procurements for the museum establishment.
The exhibition was guided not only in Japanese, but also explained in English, so it is easily accessible for foreign visitors.
♣ “Beginning of Money” –Exhibition of ancient coins
The beginnings of Japan’s “Currency” could be dated back to the 7th century when the concept of “money” was born. The currencies were brought to Japan from Ancient Kingdom of China, when Japan adopted “Ritsuryo Code” system (the first Legal Administrative cord in Japan) to build a centralized kingdom of Japan. And the primitive style of “Ichi” (market)” had been already formed at that time, and the metal “Coin” currency was used as a means of government procurement and exchange goods at the market under the authorities.
According to the museum, the first minted coin was “non-inscription silver coin”, but subsequently the new coin named “Fuhonsen coin” was produced around the latter half of the 7th. And the government authorized the minting “Wado Kaichin” copper coin and tried to circulate it in the country around the year of 708. However, these coins had circulated for certain period of times, but they were stopped to mint after the last “Kangen-Taiho” in 958 because of the worsening quality.
There are a plenty of precious currencies were displayed in this corner indicating the background story of origin of Japanese currency.
♣ The period of circulation of Chinese Currencies
After the minting “Kangen-Taiho”, the coins wasn’t functioned since as means of trade and instead the commodities like rice and silk were used for transactions for certain periods. However, since the economic activities and commercial transaction were beginning to thrive around the 12th century, the strong demand for coins had increased due to the inconvenience of the “product” currency like heavy volume rice. From this time point on, until the 14th century, the age of the China’s coins came. So these imported coins were becoming widely distributed for commercial purposes. The numerous imported coins were said to be used as the means of accumulation wealth too, not only for trade purposes.
♣ Medieval currency circulation and money
On the other hand, around the 16th century in Japan, the supply of Qian currency began to decline because of changing China’s political circumstances, then, the circulation of “coins” currency was increasingly short and became difficult to use.
In the meantime, however, in this era, a kind of mining development innovation had begun in Japan, and massive metals, especially gold, silver and copper began to be produced. And the development of these mines in various places, as being seen in “Sekishu- Silver” and “Koshu Gold”, had strongly enhanced the economic and political power of local “Daimyo” (Local lord). They produced many coins using these precious metals as a source of wealth and economic influence.
In the display shelves, a numerous gold and silver coins are exhibited which implicitly suggest their economic power based on the gold and silver miningflourished in this era. We couldn’t help surprising the rich volume of collection of these precious coins. Among them, the Hideyoshi era‘s “Tensho large-sized Gold Coin“, “Jouyo-Gold Coin”,” Shiso Gold Coin” and so on are attracting visitors as eye-catching exhibits. They make us reminiscening the days when Japan was called the “Country of Gold” as in the description of Marco Polo and other European travelers.
♣ Beginning of the monetary economy in the Edo period
In the Edo era of the 17th century, the Shogun-ate established the standardization of money unit and tried to manage the manufacturing currency of gold coin under the government control in order to encourage trade and commercial activities. They also issued “Kanei Tsuho” copper coin to facilitate their logistics and promote the market trading among local people at that time.
The exchange rate stipulated was one gold coin “Ryou” = equivalent to 50 yen silver “Nonnme” and equal to = 4000 of coins “Mon”. In addition, the gold coins are designated as “Counted currency” with printing the fixed value on the coin’s surface. On the other hand, the silver coins were counted by “Weighed money” of weight of coin and calculated in “Mon” units. As a result, the exchange of currencies was streamlined, and commodity distribution had become more thrived than ever before.
At that time, “Rice” was the major economic unit of “Goku” (showing economic power scale of Daymyo land lord)) and income source of the Shogunate and the local clans. So the rice should be converted into the currency of “gold” and “silver” at the major trade centers, like Edo and Osaka, through the commercial distribution network.
In particular, “Ryou Gae ya”(money changer) was functioned as a “money converting merchant” at that time. They exchanged money of various units to other type of units and conducted trade with essential commodities, like rice, clothes, and other commodities. They also carried out bank-like businesses for supporting the economic activities of the Edo period.
Thus, the linkage of “Nengu” (annual tribute tax system in the feudal age ), which was circulating the commodity and money, became the basic economic system in Japan during the Edo period, and the system was maintained by the help of money merchants involved. For example, the linkage was circulated like “Nengu” to — Rice transactions to — monetization to — Shogunate and clan’s to — Consumption of town people” as seeing in the illustration.
In the museum exhibition, this system and function was shown in detail using real weighing tools for gold coins, sample of gold and silver coins, and the flow charts of product distribution and so on. These look to be great learning tools for understanding monetary problems in history.
♣ Consumer economy and currency in the Edo period
Also, there were a lot of “Nishikie” (Printed poly-chrome picture) found in the display shelves in the museum, which are depicting the money merchants (Money exchange shops “Ryou Gae Ya”, etc.), big Kimono shops, local street markets, shopping scenery of the town people (Cho min”, etc.), as well as many currency samples and tools related to the money matters. They are all indicating well the appearance how the currency were used in the commercial activities in the Edo era. For example, they vividly pictured the scene of the bustling “Echigoya Store” that had set up in the Nihonbashi area, the business scene of the money changers, the shopping situation of common people, the town people of Edo who were enjoying with the lottery, the Edo landscape associated with the money matters at the time.
The various specimens of currencies issued by the Shogunate, many “Hansatsu” (land lord’s paper currency) which was authorized and used in their territories, several paper bills issued by the private sector, all these evidenced the diversification of money affairs in this period. And they seemed to indicate how money economy was permeated deeply and widely in the social life. These environments can be seen in the exhibition quite lively.
It is interesting to be able to see the manufacturing process of gold and silver coins, and other currencies in the exhibition with exact explanations.
♣ Transition of monetary system from Edo to the Meiji
In the mid-nineteenth century, the Edo Shogunate closed the seclusion policy, and the “Opening Port” invited a major change of the money system those days. In particular, the “Opening” free trade caused the rapid outflow of gold to overseas due to the price difference with the overseas silvers, and it caused significant inflation in the domestic market. And this havoc invited the extreme political and economic turmoil to the Edo government.
Although the flow out of gold coins was stopped by the contingent policy, the confidence to the Shogunate and the reliability of “Currency” were dramatically lost and down. In the midst, the Edo shogun government was collapsed, and the history was shifted to the Meiji period along with the tangled ramification of power struggle among Daimyos, Imperial court and Shogunate.
It is very much interesting that these situations are extensively illustrated from the viewpoint of the movement of “Value of Currency” in the exhibition.
♣ Beginning of Monetary System in the Meiji period
In these circumstances, the Meiji government promulgated the “New Monetary Ordinance” and introduced the policy of “Yen” monetary system in 1981 (Meiji 4th) immediately after setting up the new administration. They issued new gold coins, silver coins and copper coins under this policy line. And Meiji government published even several “Paper Notes” on the premise of convertibility to gold value. This first “Paper Currency No. 1” is the “Jingu Empress Note” (1881) notes adopted Western style design, which was actually displayed as a major object in the museum.
In addition, the Meiji government urged the establishment of new national banks and private banks, and allowed the issuance of “National Bank Note” for a certain period by the National Bank (1872), which also displayed in the exhibition shelves.
However, on the contrary to the expectation, the increasing number of bank notes had invited the deterioration of value of currencies. To correct these measures, “Bank of Japan” was established in 1882, and set up a new monetary system by publishing the exclusive banknotes “Bank of Japan Note” in a unified way. The adopted system was the “Gold Standard” measures based on internationally accredited monetary systems.
Various similar banknotes are issued one after another under this system for decades in Meiji, Taisho, and the begging Showa period. It would be a great pleasure to find these abundant samples of currencies in the exhibition. Particularly the designs adopted were quite attractive because of showing the background at this time of social environment.
♣ Currency trends up to the present
The years went around until the 1920s shifting from the Meiji era to Taisho and Showa, and the monetary policy and finance systems of Japan had put on the roots in the broader fields. However, the World Depression which occurred in the 1930s during the Showa era urged Japan major changes of monetary system. That is, in the wake of the collapse of worldwide “Gold Standard System”, Japan was forced to take measures to stop converting gold currencies in the market. Then, after that Japanese government adopted “Management Currency System” later to keep the current system of currency from 1942.
The economic and financial situation during this period is explained in detail in the exhibition along with showing abundant examples of currencies.
In the meantime, Japan had entered the Pacific War in due time of 1940s, and began strict financial control under the wartime with by the fierce restrictions on currency issues and price control. And after the defeat of the War, the proliferating inflation occurred and gave extraordinary severe impact to Japanese people along with the shortage of food and daily necessities. In this situation, The Bank of Japan took special measures to limit money circulation and banking transactions, in addition to switch then currency to “New Yen”, and other policies. The museum describes vividly this turmoil by showing many examples and explanation on the panel.
From here, the exhibitions proceed to the display of the current many type of bank notes and coins published continuing until now. The museum displays these series of bank notes and coins with focusing particularly on their design and background history of the publishing. Among other things, the most interesting exhibits were on the counterfeiting prevention and its technology with their extensive comments in the exhibition.
♣ Remarks after visit
I guess that it was the valuable museum about the history of currency in my understanding. The exhibition was showing the ancient currency forms, pictured the old scene of commercial transactions and people’s life, as well as the international interrelationship surrounding finance and money of Japan in history. This museum itself was opened in 1982, but after the renewal in 2015, the exhibitions had great expansion of the collections and dramatically changed the way of exhibition to be the easy-to-understand styles along with the responding to multi-language inquires. So I guess it would be the best museum to explore the Japanese money matters and the finances to Japanese as well as foreign visitors.