A large quantity of Chinese copper coins began to flow into Japan in the middle of the 12th century. These coins were widely circulated among Japanese people, and promoted the commodity economy. The Japanese government suspended the issuance of coins until the 16th century, leaving the people with only the Chinese coins (toraisen) to use. To address the increased demand for coins, however, privately minted Japanese coins (shichusen) were also circulated, but the quality of these coins differed by type. People began to classify these various coins by type or quality (the practice known as “erizeni”). As the result, “erizeni” caused confusion in the nation’s coin circulation. After the inflow of coins from China was disrupted in the latter half of the 16th century, rice, gold and silver began to be used as money.
From the middle of the 12th century to the 13th century
Inflow and spread of the use of coins
In the middle of the 12th century, following the inflow of coins from China to Japan, the Chinese coins began to be used as currency in Japan (with one coin given a value of one mon) 1). In the 13th century, the use of the coins spread among the people and the Kamakura Shogunate government and imperial court, which initially disapproved their use, eventually accepted the use of the coins. The coins thus replaced commodity money, such as rice, silk and (hemp) clothes.
In the 13th century, people began to pay annual taxes with coins, and the products that had been submitted as taxes began to be traded in local markets, leading to the development of a commodity economy.
1) Chinese coinage and outflow of coins from China:
The Northern Song Dynasty (10th to 12th centuries) minted the largest numbers of coins among all the Chinese dynasties. After the fall of the dynasty, large numbers of the coins flowed out of the country to Japan and other regions. Following this, in the latter half of the 13th century, as the Yuan Dynasty (13th to 14th centuries) prohibited the use of coins and promoted the use of paper money as the major form of currency, large amount of coins flowed out of China.
From the 14th century to the latter half of the 15th century
Development of the commodity economy and an increase in demand for coins
In the Kinki area and the transportation hub cities, local specialties began to be traded, bringing wealth to some merchants (utokunin) and transporters (toimaru). With the development of the commodity economy, the demand for coins increased. The Muromachi Shogunate government imported coins from China (Min Dynasty); however, the inflow of coins was lower compared to the level seen in the 13th century 2). From the latter half of the 14th century, an increasing number of people began to stock coins in large numbers.
Because of the increased demand for coins and a decrease in the inflow of coins from China, people began to mint coins privately, which were modeled after the Chinese ones
In the first half of the 14th century, Emperor Godaigo planned to mint the Kenkon Tsuho coin; however, his plan was not implemented due to the failure of the Kenmu Restoration.
2) Chinese coinage and outflow of coins from China:
The Min Dynasty (14th to 17th centuries) initially used both coins and paper money, but did not mint coins in large numbers. The dynasty also limited foreign trade to tributary trade, resulting in a decrease in the outflow of coins from the country.
From the latter half of the 15th century to the first half of the 16th century
In the latter half of the 15th century, demand for coins further increased due to the development of commercial transactions. Because of the poor quality of coins imported from China and privately minted coins in Japan (in Sakai, Hakata, and other local cities) that were modeled after Chinese ones, people began to classify coins according to their type and form 3). As a result, the “1 copper coin = 1 mon” principle, which had prevailed stably during medieval times, collapsed, and the value of coins came to differ according to their type all over the country. After looking at the chaotic coin circulation situation, the government and feudal lords repeatedly issued orders to prohibit the selecting of coins (erizeni) to ensure that coins were smoothly circulated.
Credit transactions were developed following the spread of the use of money in daily transactions. From the early 14th century to the early 16th century, bills known as “saifu” were used for the transfer and payment of funds between remote areas. Most bills had a value of 10 kanmon (10,000 copper coins) and they were circulated among the general public.
In the middle of the 15th century, poor-quality coins were privately minted in the south-eastern part of China, and the erizeni practice subsequently began. Privately minted coins flowed out of the country to Japan together with Min Dynasty coins.
From the middle to late 16th century
Disruption of the inflow of coins from China and the appearance of gold and silver coins
In the latter half of the 16th century, the inflow of Chinese coins was disrupted, leading to a decrease in the circulation of coins 4). In the 1570s in western Japan, rice was used instead of coins to settle large transactions like real estate. Warlords actively developed mines, and minted silver and gold coins for large transactions and for military funds, including Sekishu-gin silver coins and Koshu-kin gold coins.
At the Iwami silver mine, a new refining technology known as “cupellation” was introduced ahead of other mines in Japan. The silver produced from this mine was exported overseas.
The Koshu-kin gold coins were issued based on the currency units ryo, bu and shu, adopting the quaternary numeral system, and these units continued to be used for gold coins during the Edo period.
4) Chinese coinage:
In the 16th century, silver coins played an exclusive role in Chinese coinage and the production of privately, as well as officially, minted coins was stopped, which led to a suspension of the outflow of Chinese coins to Japan.