Currency Museum Bank of Japan
Middle of the 18th century-Latter half of the 19th Century Early Modern Times (2)

Early Modern Times (2)

In the latter half of the 18th century, the demand for small-denomination currency increased due to expanded production of commercial crops in local villages. The Tokugawa Shogunate government issued silver coins (Meiwa Nanryo Nishu-gin <2-shu-gin>) with denominations based on gold coin units. Thus, the silver coins eventually became supplementary currencies of gold coins.
Toward the end of the Edo period, recoinages (Bunsei and Tenpo recoinages) were often carried out to finance the budget deficits of the Shogunate government, which led to chronic inflation. After the re-opening of international trade at the end of the Edo period, Japan experienced a huge outflow of gold coins overseas, and the Man’en recoinage, which was carried out to stop this outflow, caused further inflation, resulting in confusion of the nation’s monetary system toward the Meiji Restoration.

Middle of the 18th century to the 19th century

Appearance of silver coins with denominations

In 1765, the Tokugawa Shogunate government issued silver coins with fixed weight (Meiwa Gomonme-gin <5 monme-gin> silver coins) to be exchanged at an official exchange rate of 1-ryo of gold for 60 monme of silver, and subsequently in 1772, issued Meiwa Nanryo Nishu-gin silver coins with denominations based on gold coin units. The government promoted the use of the coins by proactively making loans to moneychangers (ryogaesho), and in the first half of the 19th century, silver coins with denominations were circulated all over the country.

The Gomonme-gin silver coin carried the fixed denomination of “5 monme,” and moneychangers, who had been earning profits from fluctuations of exchange rates in the market, strongly objected to use these coins.
On the obverse of the Meiwa Nanryo Nishu-gin silver coin, it was indicated that eight Nanryo Nishugin silver coins could be exchanged for one 1-ryo Koban gold coin. In line with the government’s policy, the coins began to be circulated widely as supplementary currencies of Koban gold coins, since it was more convenient to use silver coins with denominations rather than those traded by weight.
In 1768, the Kan’ei Tsuho Yonmon (4 mon)-sen brass coin was minted, which carried a wave pattern on the back. From the end of the Edo period to the Meiji period, Yonmonsen iron coins were also minted in large numbers.

First half of the 19th century

Bunsei and Tenpo recoinages

The Tokugawa Shogunate government carried out the Bunsei and Tenpo recoinages in 1818 and 1832, respectively, to debase the gold and silver coins in order to compensate for fiscal deficits.Official exchange rate was set at 1 ryo of gold = 60 monme of silver = 6,500 mon of copper.
The recoinages, however, caused confusion in the monetary system and increased commodity prices. The government also minted Tenpo Tsuho Hyakumon (100 mon)-sen and Tenpo Goryo (5 ryo)-ban coins to cover fiscal deficits.

The Tenpo Tsuho 100-mon-sen coins (1835) were minted in large numbers; however, the amount of material used for the mintage of each of these coins was almost the same as that used in five and a half Kan’ei Tsuho 1-mon-sen coins, which caused chronic rises in commodity prices.
The amount of gold contained in one Tenpo 5-ryo-ban (1837) coin was equivalent to the total amount of gold contained in four and a half of the 1-ryo Tenpo Koban gold coins. This new, low-quality coin was badly received among the people, and the mintage was soon suspended.

Middle of the 19th century

Currency and the conclusion of Ansei five-power treaties

In 1858, Japan concluded treaties of amity and commerce with the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, the Netherlands and France (known as “unequal treaties”). The treaties stipulated that “in principle, all coins of the same type shall be exchanged based on their weight regardless of their metal fineness.” In 1859, the Tokugawa Shogunate government, wanting two Nishu (2 shu)-gin silver coins to be exchanged for one Mexican silver dollar coin, minted Ansei Nishu (2 shu)-gin , which had higher silver fineness than Tenpo Ichibu (1 bu)-gin, on the day before the opening of the ports. However, the United States objected to the plan and the exchange rate was fixed at one Mexican 1-dollar silver coin for three Ichibu-gin coins.

Of the foreign silver coins used in world trade, those brought into Japan were primarily from Mexico.
Under the Japan-U.S. Treaty of Peace and Amity (1854), the exchange rate was decided at one Mexican 1-dollar silver coin for one Ichibu-gin coin. However, Townsend Harris, first American envoy in Japan, insisted on the aforementioned exchange principle, and the rate was fixed at one Mexican silver dollar coin for three Ichibu-gin coins.

Latter half of the 19th Century

The massive outflow of gold coins, and the Man'en recoinage

During this time in Japan, one gram of gold could be exchanged approximately for five grams of silver, while in foreign countries, one gram of gold could be exchanged for approximately 15 grams of silver. As the value of gold in Japan was much lower compared to the overseas market, a large number of gold coins flowed out of the country. In 1860, the government decreased the gold fineness to one-third its previous level in the Man’en recoinange in order to adjust the gold-silver parity to that of the international level. Eventually, further outflow of gold coins overseas was prevented.

To stop the outflow of gold coins from Japan, the government minted Man’en Nibu (2 bu)-kin gold coins. As the gold coins were issued in large quantity to cover fiscal deficits, this resulted in sharp inflation

Foreign merchants exchanged four Mexican silver coins for 12 ichibu-gin silver coins and then exchanged the 12 coins for three Koban gold coins in Japan. Outside Japan, again, they exchanged the 3 Koban gold coins for 12 Mexican silver coins.