JAPAN, GENHO TSUHO, 1580-1620 AD, copper, 1 mon


JAPAN, KYUSHU, 1 mon, no date (c. 1580-1620 AD), Obverse: GENHO TSUHO, seal script, medium characters, Reverse: inner and outer rims, copper, 24mm, 3.99g, one of the Bita sen series, H3.114, ex-Fisher collection, F

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Year title borrowed from a Chinese coin from a few centuries previous. The calligraphy and metal content reveal this coin as Japanese.

Kyushu was far away from the central government and was substantially left to its own devices for several centuries.

The Japanese took their idea of coinage directly from China, making square holed cast bronze coins starting in the 8th century AD. The chinese had been making coins for 1300 years already, so the Japanese could see what the benefits and problems were. There is the possibility, given the rarity of the earliest Japanese coins, and the existence of silver versions, that the whole coinage thing started with a palace game of Let’s Play Chinese. My main reference is the book: Early Japanese Coins, by David Hartill.

China calls itself “Central Country.” That is in reference to the vast Asian hinterland that is not China, and to the island peoples out in the Pacific Ocean. Because China tended to do organizational things earliest in that part of the world, the outsiders would notice and adopt useful practices that they observed. Among those borrowed cultural practices was the adoption of the money economy to replace direct barter, or to replace less convenient shapes of metal, rings and tools and jewelry bits. The Chinese style of market money being square holed cast bronze coins, that became the form of the coins made in Korea, Japan, Vietnam, the islands out to Java, into Siberia and as far west as Kazakhstan.