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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Silver was procured from the provinces of Iyo and Kii


money had already been a feature of Chinese civilization since the fourth century before Christ, and when Japan began to take models from her great neighbour during the Sui and Tang dynasties, she cannot have failed to appreciate the advantages of artificial media of exchange. The annals allege that in A.D. 677 the first mint was established, and that in 683 an ordinance prescribed that the silver coins struck there should be superseded by copper. But this rule did not remain long in force, nor have there survived any coins, whether of silver or of copper, certainly identifiable as antecedent to the Wado era. It was in the year of the Empress Gemmyo's accession (708) that deposits of copper were found in the Chichibu district of Musashi province, and the event seemed sufficiently important to call for a change of year-name to Wado (refined copper). Thenceforth, coins of copper--or more correctly, bronze--were regularly minted and gradually took the place of rice or cotton cloth as units of value.

It would seem that, from the close of the seventh century, a wave of mining industry swept over Japan. Silver was procured from the provinces of Iyo and Kii; copper from Inaba and Suo, and tin from Ise, Tamba, and Iyo. All this happened between the years 690 and 708, but the discovery of copper in the latter year in Chichibu was on comparatively the largest scale, and may be said to have given the first really substantial impetus to coining. For some

unrecorded reason silver pieces were struck first and were followed by copper a few months later. Both were of precisely the same form--round with a square hole in the middle to facilitate threading on a string--both were of the same denomination (one won), and both bore the same superscription (Wado Kaiho, or "opening treasure of refined copper"), the shape, the denomination, and the legend being taken from a coin of the Tang dynasty struck eighty-eight years previously. It was ordered that in using these pieces silver should be paid in the case of sums of or above four mon, and copper in the case of sums of or below three won, the value of the silver coin being four times that of the copper. But the silver tokens soon ceased to be current and copper mainly occupied the field, a position which it held for 250 years, from 708 to 958. During that interval, twelve forms of sen* were struck. They deteriorated steadily in quality, owing to growing scarcity of the supply of copper; and, partly to compensate for the increased cost of the metal, partly to minister to official greed, the new issues were declared, on several occasions, to have a value ten times as great as their immediate predecessors. Concerning that value, the annals state that in 711 the purchasing power of the mon (i.e., of the one-sen token) was sixty go of rice, and as the daily ration for a full-grown man is five go, it follows that one sen originally sufficed for twelve days' sustenance.**

*The ideograph sen signified originally a "fountain," and its employment to designate a coin seems to have been suggested by an idea analogous to that underlying the English word "currency."

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