Currency. A gold standard was adopted in 1897, and the coinage consists of gold, silver, nickel, and copper. The chief circulating medium, however, has generally been paper. The system is decimal, and the nomenclature as follows:
|1 yen (half-dollar)||= 100 sen.|
|1 sen (half-cent)||= 10 rin.|
|1 rin||= 10 mō (or mon).|
|1 mō||= 10 shu.|
|1 shu||= 10 kotsu.|
Government and banking accounts do not take notice of any value smaller than the rin; but estimates by private tradesmen often descend to mō and shu, which are incredibly minute fractions of a farthing. No coins exist, however, to represent these Lilliputian sums. There are gold pieces of 20 yen, 10 yen, and 5 yen; silver pieces of 50 sen and under, nickel pieces of 5 sen, copper pieces for lesser values, and paper for various values great and small, from 1 yen upward. The paper notes now in use are redeemable in gold, and therefore stand at par. The large oblong brass pieces with holes in the middle, enabling them to be strung on a string, are called tempō, because coined during the period styled Tempō (A. D. 1830—1844) They are worth eight rin, but are now almost obsolete. The smaller round coins, also having holes in the middle, and commonly known to foreigners as "cash," are worth, some 10 mo, some 15, some 20. No coins of this kind are now issued. The style has been condemned by the modern Japanese, because not sanctioned by European precedent. But what is there to consult in such matters save convenience? And let him who has handled a thousand coppers thus strung, and attempted to handle a thousand loose ones, speak to the relative convenience of the two methods.
The Imperial mint is situated at Ōsaka. It was started under British auspices, but the last of the British employes left in 1889. The manufactory of paper money is at Tōkyō, being carried on at an institution called the Insatsu Kyoku, which well deserves a visit. Both the coins and the paper notes possess considerable artistic merit.
In Japan, as elsewhere, financiers have been engrossed by the monometallic and bimetallic controversy, the currency problem being not the least of those which the Government has had to solve. Forty years ago, when the country was still practically closed, little specie was in actual use, but there existed a banking system which sustained mercantile credit for the limited amount of internal business then transacted. Later, paper money was extensively employed, and at one time suffered great depreciation,—as much as sixty per cent in the year 1881,—but was brought again to a par with silver by the issue of convertible silver notes, and so remained for over a decade. The industrial boom which followed the war with China in 1894-5, created a necessity for securing foreign capital to finance multitudinous undertakings which Japan herself had not the means to carry on unaided. Thereupon the Government, recognising the impossibility of borrowing in the Western money markets so long as Japan remained on a silver basis, passed a bill making the currency a gold one in the ratio of 32⅓ to 1, or say 2/0½ sterling per yen. The extreme difficulty of the situation could scarcely have been more strikingly exemplified than by the circumstance that, in the brief interval between Japan's decision to adopt a gold standard and the putting of that decision into effect, the relative value of the two metals had already again varied as much as five-eighths of a penny by the continued appreciation of gold. Far be it, however, from ignoramuses like ourselves to venture into the controversial quagmire.
Book recommended. The Coins of Japan, by N. G. Munro.