Union Académique Internationale

Japanese Ancient Coinage

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Project nº94, adopted in 2019

The Academy of Japan's new scientific program is to compile a comprehensive inventory of Japanese coinage up to the Edo period. This project corresponds to a relative delay in scientific research in the field of numismatic studies, more particularly of coins minted on the territory of Japan. Coinage originated in western Asia Minor at the beginning of the 6th century BC, in the western Eurasian world. In this historical context, the Japanese currencies appeared entirely separately. They were produced in the historical environment of East Asia, where China held political and cultural hegemony. The "Chronicle of Japan - Nihon shoki", written in 720 CE, talks about the booming economy of this year and states that 180 liters of rice is worth "a silver coin". This is the first indication of the existence of a currency, more specifically silver money. Despite this attestation, we have not been able to find any examples that belong to an era prior to the 7th century.

For the early days of Japanese history, moreover, one will notice a certain inequality or disproportion between the mention of the coinage in written documents and the discovery of coins themselves. The abundance of written documents, either on paper or on wooden tablets, is growing thanks to archaeological discoveries. It invites the classification of Japanese metallic coins in a systematic and exhaustive manner in order to bridge this gap between written evidence and metallic material, thus creating a scientific perspective specific to the history of Japanese coinage and the way it is used.

Japanese numismatics seemed to have been neglected among the humanities in the archipelago until the 1980s. Gradually, the scientific interest in coinage gained firmer ground. It has been four years since the selection committee of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (aka JSPS) granted considerable funds for a project devoted not to the Japanese numismatic study but to that which had been proposed by the Japanese Western historians. Of course, the Japanese numismatic study was able to make great progress with such help. The legitimation of numismatic research as a science has thus been greatly enhanced in Japan.

Thus, the stake of this project is high. By creating a comprehensive inventory of ancient Japanese coins, one provides a full picture of the archipelago’s numismatic phenomenon, and more importantly and more importantly, it builds the basic data for all future research on Japanese coins. In this sense, one could in summary define that the very object of this project is the creation of numismatic science in Japan.

Workplan 1) Each catalog, published in English, would correspond to one or more collections of Japanese coins. 2) Ancient coins brought to light by archaeological excavations are excluded in order to ensure consistency of the materials inventoried. However, this does not exclude the possibility to propose as a sub-project an analysis of the archaeological monetary treasures to establish a geography of the circulation of discovered coins. Each coin is listed with: a) photos of the right and reverse, b) inscriptions on the right and reverse, c) metallic material, d) weight, up to one hundredth of a gram, e) size (diameter) up to tenth of a mm , f) place of minting, g) date of issue, h) date of entry into the given collection, i) number in the catalog, etc. 3) On the territory of Japan, the largest collection belongs to the Currency Museum attached to the Bank of Japan, but the National Museum of Japanese History, the Faculty of Economics at the University of Tokyo as well as the Research institute and private foundations also keep important collections. 4) Other collections are owned by different overseas organizations of varying importance. But we know, thanks to the teaching provided by European specialists, a number of important collections kept in museums in Europe and the United States.