Just north of Nihonbashi we find the solemn edifice of the Bank of Japan. The office building next to bank's main building houses the Currency Museum, which was set up by the Bank of Japan (its Institute for Monetary and Economic Studies, to be precise) and provides a very complete overview of money in Japan.
Most of the museum space is taken up by this historical display, the 'History of Japanese Currency.' Further, there is a small area for thematic displays and a special exhibition area where usually various types of currency from other countries are shown. It is a pity that the detailed Japanese explanations have not been translated, but the illustrated English pamphlet visitors receive at the entrance partly makes up for that deficiency.
[The Bank of Japan]
The display starts with 'commodity money' such as arrowheads or rice and the beginning of coinage in China in the 3rd c. BC. These earliest coins still had the shape of commodities such as spades and daggers, but soon the typical circular coins with a square hole in the middle appear.
Influenced by China, the Yamato court in Japan started producing coins of that shape in 708 (called Wado Kaichin).
In the 10th c., however, coinage by the government was suspended and from the 12th to the 17th c. imported Chinese coins would be widely used in Japan. On display is a pot from Kyushu in which 7,700 Chinese coins were found.
The unification of the country by Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu also brought a new currency system. In 1588, Hideyoshi ordered the minting of Tensho Oban gold coins - these are the largest gold coins ever produced in the world. In 1601 Ieyasu has Keicho gold and silver coins minted.
Around 1600 the first paper money was introduced by merchants from the Ise area, called Yamada Hagaki (China knew paper money since the 10th c. - when it was used in Sichuan - and used it widely since the Yuan Dynasty). Paper money was slow to take off, but in 1661 the Fukui fief issued 'feudal notes,' local paper money, and they were soon imitated by other domains as well.
In 1670 the Kanei Tsusho standardized copper coin was added to the silver and gold ones by the shogunate. This was a monetary system where the value of individual coins was based on the value and volume of the metal from which they were made. At the end of the century, however, the government debased gold and silver coins and this happened several times in the rest of the Edo period.
When the Meiji government took the reigns in 1868, there was monetary confusion at first, but soon a monetary system based on a Western model was introduced. Due to the New Currency Act of 1871, the denomination 'yen' was introduced.
1881 saw the issue of the Empress Jingu Note, the first one to feature a portrait. The Bank of Japan started its operations in 1882 and issued its first note called Daikokusatsu in 1885. In 1897 the gold standard was adopted.
The rest is modern history, with the various types of yen coins and notes issued from that time on display, also the ones from the war period.
Address: Bank of Japan Annex Building, Nihonbashi-Hongokucho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo.
Access: 1 min walk from Mitsukoshi-mae St on the Hanzomon Subway Line (B1 exit); 3 min walk from Mitsukoshi-mae St on the Ginza Subway Line (A5 exit)
Hours: 9:30-16:30. Cl. Mon, NH (except Sat & Sun), 12/29-1/4, between exhibitions. Entrance free.