Author Topic: Why did Japan issued coins so late?  (Read 151 times)

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Offline Matteo

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Why did Japan issued coins so late?
« on: December 30, 2020, 03:55:30 PM »
Hi,

I've a basis knowledge about early Chineese coinage, but almost nothing about early Japenese coinage. My question is simple, but I suspect the answer is much more difficult: Why did Japan issued coins so late?
What I know is that Japan issued its own first coin in 708, named Wadō kaichin (silver coin) more than 1.000 years after China (or Lydia or India). It is not clear if a bronze coin, named Fuhosen, has been issued before Wadō kaichin. Before theese coins, Chineese coins as Ban Liang and Wuzhu were in use, but not so widely.

What do you think about this late coinage introduction?

Best regards
Matteo

Offline otlichnik

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Re: Why did Japan issued coins so late?
« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2020, 04:09:16 PM »
Matteo,

If you search online you can find the following book as a free PDF download.

Coins of Japan, by Neil Gordon Munro, 1904.

Though a bit dated, this is a great introductory book to Japanese coinage and will answer that question better than I can.

SC

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Why did Japan issued coins so late?
« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2020, 05:51:43 PM »
The wadōkaichin (look here for the meaning of the name) were issued following the discovery of large copper deposits in Japan during the early 8th century. They were close copies of contemporary Chinese coins both in production method and technical specifications.

It is therefore quite likely that coins used in Japan before the wadōkaichin were introduced were Chinese, more so because older Chinese coins are often found in excavations in Japan. Even after Japan began casting its own coins, Chinese coins were in use, as can be glanced from the large amounts of Japanese copies of Chinese cash coins.

Moreover, for small amounts, payments in rice and cloth as well as barter were common. In addition, for a long time, Japan - like China - had copper coins only. Large payments could be settled in silver bars going by weight. As Peter Spufford has shown, silver bars were also used in Medieval Europe, Kiev and Byzantium. If the bars have no inscriptions or design, archeologists tend not to recognise them as money. Yet, they may well have been used in the area between Byzantium and China as well. One obvious case is Chach, where only small coppers were issued.

Peter
« Last Edit: January 01, 2021, 03:33:51 PM by Figleaf »
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline Matteo

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Re: Why did Japan issued coins so late?
« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2021, 12:00:47 PM »
Coins of Japan, by Neil Gordon Munro, 1904.

Thanks for the reference :)

The wadōkaichin (look here fot the meaning of the name) were issued following the discovery of large copper deposits in Japan during the early 8th century. They were close copies of contemporary Chinese coins both in production method and technical specifications.

It is therefore quite likely that coins used in Japan before the wadōkaichin were introduced were Chinese, more so because older Chinese coins are often found in excavations in Japan. Even after Japan began casting its own coins, Chinese coins were in use, as can be glanced from the large amounts of Japanese copies of Chinese cash coins.


Dear Peter,
thanks for your answer.

I've read something on Japanese coinage in the book available on Academia.edu "Catalogue of the Japanese Coin Collection (pre-Meiji) at the British Museum". In particular, Shin’ichi Sakuraki (pp. 23-25) writes about early coins circulation. As you also writes, banliang, wuzhu and coins of Wang Mang period have been found all over Japan, albeit not in large quantities.

Then he suggest that "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".

I'm not sure this statement is so convincing... I'm inclined to think that Japanese were sufficiently developed to use coinage and that low intrinsic value coins were not great precious objects.

About cronology of first coins, Sakuraki writes:
1.mumon-ginsen, a silver ingot (or coin?) without inscriptions -  dated to the late VII c. a.d.;
2.Fuhonsen, now considered the first Japanese coin (copper) -  dated to the late VII c. a.d.. It is possible that the 683 decree ("copper should be used, not silver") was referred to these coins;
3. silver Wadō kaichin - dated to the fifth month of 708 a.d.;
5. copper Wadō kaichin - dated to the eighth month of 708 a.d.

Interesting the alternation between silver and copper.

Best wishes for a happy new year.
Matteo

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Why did Japan issued coins so late?
« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2021, 03:55:39 PM »
I agree with much of that but take issue with two things. First, the distinction between coins and jewellery is not sharp at all. Coins could become clothing decoration and revert back to being coin in Islamic countries. Normans turned decorative items into coins (hack silver). Even today, cash coins are used as decorative items. This means that even if we find coins used as jewellery, that doesn't mean ALL coins were used as jewellery. BTW, items that look like coins or jewellery or both would sometimes be used only for religious purposes, like the Celtic rouelles (little wheels).

Second, I am not aware of evidence other than unsubstantiated Chinese opinions that Japan was socially, economically* or even technically backward. Moreover, coins were in ready use in societies that were (e.g. Helvetes, Celtic tribes in Britain) and not in use in advanced societies (e.g. early Mesopotamians, early Egyptians, Mayas, Incas).

Take these two arguments together and you get a picture in which it is unsure if coin use was widespread or not, which items were actually used as money and if there was any correlation between the use of money and culture.

Peter

* We do know that Japan had an important trade deficit with China. Economically, that should mean that Japanese items acceptable as money to the Chinese would move from Japan to China, not that Chinese cash coins would go to Japan. Interestingly, Wang Mang coins were heavily overvalued. It is therefore possible that after Wang Mang's death, these coins became unacceptable in China, while they would still fetch a price above metal value in Japan.
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline otlichnik

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Re: Why did Japan issued coins so late?
« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2021, 03:58:50 PM »
Here is my take on the question.

It is hard to argue with the fact that there is simply very little evidence of much pre-8th century coin use in Japan.

However, I take issue with the wording of that BM volume - "not sufficiently developed socially".  I think a more accurate term would be "not developed socially in a monetized way".  The use or not of coinage does not necessarily make you more or less developed.  There were no coins in use in pre-Ptolemaic Egypt, Babylon, Ur, Assyria, Urartu, Elam, the Hittite Empire, the Indus Valley, Minoan, etc. 

I don't think anyone would argue that these societies were not socially developed or that every coin using society was "more socially developed" than them.

It would appear that early Japan was simply a very low monetized society. 

Prior to that time even China had not been universally highly monetized.  That is its use of coinage appears to have varied somewhat over time.  There were indeed periods where coin use appear to have been very high - Qin/early W Han; Xin/Wing Mang, early E Han but at other periods - for example the few centuries before the start of the Tang - coin use was perhaps not as prevalent as it had been earlier.

SC

PS Ha. Looks like two simultaneous posts with nearly the same argument.

Offline Matteo

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Re: Why did Japan issued coins so late?
« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2021, 12:33:43 PM »
However, I take issue with the wording of that BM volume - "not sufficiently developed socially".  I think a more accurate term would be "not developed socially in a monetized way".  The use or not of coinage does not necessarily make you more or less developed.  There were no coins in use in pre-Ptolemaic Egypt, Babylon, Ur, Assyria, Urartu, Elam, the Hittite Empire, the Indus Valley, Minoan, etc. 

I don't think anyone would argue that these societies were not socially developed or that every coin using society was "more socially developed" than them.

It would appear that early Japan was simply a very low monetized society. 

Prior to that time even China had not been universally highly monetized.  That is its use of coinage appears to have varied somewhat over time.  There were indeed periods where coin use appear to have been very high - Qin/early W Han; Xin/Wing Mang, early E Han but at other periods - for example the few centuries before the start of the Tang - coin use was perhaps not as prevalent as it had been earlier.

SC

PS Ha. Looks like two simultaneous posts with nearly the same argument.

Hi,
I perfectly agree with this. Thanks to all of you for your answers.
Best regards.
Matteo