Theatre and visual arts in 18th and 19th century Japan, £20.00
Weight: 6.410 g
Room 68: Money
Silver Wadō tsūho coin
Wadō period (AD 707-715)
Japan's first coin
Japan adopted the idea of coinage from China, and the first coins issued by the Japanese court at Nara in AD 708 were silver and copper imitations of contemporary Chinese cast bronze coins of the Tang dynasty (AD 618-906). The silver coins were not successful and were soon withdrawn, but copper coins were used and issued for the next 250 years.
The inscription on this coin reads 'Wadō tsūho', reading the characters top-bottom right-left. Wadō means 'soft copper' and it was used in the coin inscription following the important discovery of copper in Musashi (modern-day Tokyo). Tsūho means 'first treasure' or 'coin'.
During the first 250 years of coinage in Japan there were 12 different coin designs. These are known as 'The Twelve Ancient Coins of Japan'. Like the Chinese coins on which they were modelled, the inscriptions on the twelve ancient coins include the reign period during which they were issued. After AD 958 the Japanese government stopped issuing copper coins, and by the end of the tenth century they had gone out of use.
N.G. Munro, Coins of Japan (Yokohama, 1904)
J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)
D.M. Brown, Money economy in Medieval Japa (Institute of Far Eastern Languages, Yale University, 1951)