Japanese coins

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Bitasen is the Japanese word used to designate the many pre-18th century coins of Japan that were neither made under imperial auspices or under the authority of the Tokugawa clan. The word bita means "bad metal" and the term bitasen conveys the impression of poorly made coins, but many are actually very fine examples of the craft of casting coins. They exist in great variety. Most are versions or copies of Chinese coins. Many are easy to identify and some are quite difficult to distinguish from Chinese or Annamese varieties, reminding us that "cash" was an international form of currency. The majority probably date from the 16th and 17th centuries.

My main reference work for these coins is Masuo Tomifusa, Honpou bitasen zufu, (Anasendou 1982).


Kajiki sen@‰ΑŽ‘–Ψ‘K

There is a village in Kyuushuu known as Kajiki, which produced many coins in the late 16th and early 17th century. It was part of Satsuma domain which carried on a lively trade with China and the Ryuukyuu kingdom. It took the Ming dynasty Chinese Hong Wu Tong Bao as its base and produced a similar coin with the character "ji"(from Ka-ji-ki) on the back. The Chinese varieties do not use this character on the reverse so it is easy to identify as a Kajiki-sen. This coin is based on the common "long beak' variety of Ming Dynasty Hong Wu coin.

Koubu Tsuuhou

This is the most common variety, "middle size character small "ji". This one has a nice color to it and is rather handsomely produced.


23 mm x 1 mm

Koubu Tsuuhou

This is also a middle size character one, but has some distinguishing characteristics that seem to derive from its being a recut later version. Evidence of recut include the slightly doubled outer rim on the back (lower right), the cut separating the Hou character from the rim on the left, and the clumsy slices through the upper portion of the Hou character itself. and finally the slicing of the bottom of the Bu character on the bottom.


23.8 mm x 1 mm

Koubu Tsuuhou, katou

Based on the Ming dynasty Hong Wu Tong Bao, this coin has been recut, most noticeably around the rim near the Bu and the Tsuu characters. You can see an arc ridge formed circling from the Bu to the Tsuu. Overall the recutting was to raise the characters against the background, as iutsushi tend to flatten out. The reverse is nearly smooth and flat as is the case with many bitasen. It measures 19.2 mm across from the inside of the rims. I bought this coin in Niigata Japan, and the seller said it came from a lot of coins from a local temple. This may be an offshoot of the Kajiki sen type or just a katou recut type described below.

24 mm x 1 mm

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Tenka-te Shoufu@“V‰ΊŽθΛ•„

This coin is based on the Song dynasty Chinese coin Hsian Fu Tong Bao. It is not clear where this was made, but my reference book suggests Kyuushuu. A Japanese friend tells me that it has been found in caches of great quantities in Edo and Osaka, and probably was made and circulated at the very beginning of the 16th century. The coin is relatively small and thin, the characters are poorly cast and the space between the characters tends to bulge and frequently has "stars" in it, but the coin somehow feels more solid than the Annam floater coins of the same size. It exists in many varieties, some common and some rare. One of the rarest gives this coin its name: On the back written upside down are the characters "Tenka," meaning "The Realm" or "The Ruler."

Shoufu Tsuuhou

This coin is the most common variety.


21.5 mm x .6 mm


Heian Tsuuhou@•½ˆΐ’Κ•σ

The name of this coin, Heian, is the same as the old name of Kyoto, back when it was the capital from the late 700's into the 1300's. Its name gradually changed to Miyako and Kyoto during the Warring States era. However, Heian is also a reign name in the kingdom of Annam (Vietnam) from the year 1599. For a while numismatists thought that this coin was an Annam coin, but now they tend to think, on the basis of metal content analysis and some archeological finds, that this was made in Kyushu in the early 1600's.

Heian Tsuuhou

This coin is the standard variety which itself is uncommon. More uncommon varieties have "stars" on the face. This coin belongs to Bill Dunkle who kindly let me use the image.


23.2 mm x 0.8 mm


Kanoude Genyuu Tsuuhou@ŠŽθŒ³—S’Κ •σ

This coin exists in a great number of varieties including those with many different markings on the back. It is based on the seal script version of the Northern Song Chinese Yuan You Tong Bao but is easily distinguishable by the top Yuan (J. Gen) character which seems to be standing on tip toe. The final direction of the right leg points straight down, unlike the Chinese varieties.

Kanoude Genyuu Tsuuhou, Wide Shell Hou

This version of the coin has no character on the back side.The name comes from the bottom portion (which means "shell") of the left Hou character being wider than normal on this coin. The Gen also character stands especially high on this version. This one unfortunately has a crack at 2:00.

23 mm x 0.9 mm

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Katou bitasen@‰Α“θ[‘K

Katou means "with added carving." These coins are made from a Chinese circulating coin which has been retouched with a knife. This can be done to make the characters sharp once again, bit it also changes the shape of the characters. Below are varieties of katou bita sen recognized in the Japanese book Honpou bitasen zufu (Anasend™ 1982), and some unlisted varieties.

Junpei Genpou, katou

This is based on the Northern Song Ji Ping Tong Bao. This is a katou-bitasen. The Ji character has been recut and changed to look somewhat like the character "jun" ‡ . The characters connect with both the inner and outer rims, as is common with bitasen. There are rarer varieties of this coin where the minter has cut a circle around the inner part of the outside rim in order to separate the characters from the rim. I bought this in a flea market in Kochi.

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Unpou Genpou, katou, (Cloud Hou)

This is based on the Northern Song Yuan Feng Tong Bao. The right Feng character has been recut into something resembling the character for "cloud" ‰_. I like the fractured top of the left Bao character as well.

29.3 mm x 1.4 mm


Chougen Dentsuu, katou (Jumping Gen, Field Tsuu)

This is also based on the running script Northern Song Yuan Feng Tong Bao. This coin gets it name from the top Yuan character having a lively jumping feel to it, and the bottom Tong character which has at its center the character for "field" “c. the left Bao character has a very dynamic brush stroke order.. This coin is very thin and seems to be made from a different mint from the one above.

28.3 mm x 0.7 mm


Tsukasa Genfu, katou (Governer Fu)

This coin is based on the seal script Northern Song Yuan Fu Tong Bao. This version gets its name from the appearance of the character for governor Ži inside the right Fu character.

29 mm x 1.1 mm


Sousho Shidou, katou (Grass script Shidou)

This coin is based on the grass script Northern Song Zhi Dao Yuan Bao. The Bao character has been extensively recut.

29 mm x 1.4 mm


Sousho Shidou, katou (Grass script Shidou)

This coin is the same type as the above. It seems to have been extensively recut a second time, withe each of the characters getting a trimming to be thinner. The bottom Gen character has had its left leg cut short as well. Not that the reverse rim is thicker on this version than the one above. Second and third generaton castings tend to thicken the rim and the characters and so the recutting of the front was probably considered necessary to keep the characters clear.

29 mm x 1.0 mm

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Chougen Genfu,tegawari, katou (Jumping Gen Genfu, alternate version)

This coin is based on the seal script Northern Song Yuan Fu Tong Bao. This version gets its name from the flourish of the top Gen character. This is an alternate version which has the right leg of the Gen character flaring up strongly. The basic version does not have the flare.

mm x mm


Eiraku Tsuuhou

This coin, based on the Ming Yong Le coin, is small and thin. It is 18.5 mm measuring across to the insides of the rim, much less than the normal 20-21 mm on Yong Le coins. I bought this coin in Niigata Japan, and the seller said it came from a lot of coins from a local temple. This coin is so worn that it is hard to tell if there was any recutting involved, but the Ei seems to lean to the right.

22 mm x 0.5 mm

Eiraku Tsuuhou

In the process of iutsushi, sometimes recasting from a coin which was recast from a circulating coin etc., coins tend to get smaller. To combat this some minters add metal to the outside rim to restore the size of the coin to normal so that it will be accepted at face value. As a consequence the rim itself becomes thicker, and the characters get smaller and tend to migrate to the inner rim, touching it. This coin is an example.Notice the ridge visible on the lower right of the reverse. I bought this coin in Niigata Japan in the same lot as the one above, but the make may be Chinese or Annamese.

24 mm x 1 mm


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Iutsushi means to "cast a copy from," This refers to casting a coin from a circulating coin. In Japan during the medieval period up into the early 1600's Chinese coins, mainly Song and Ming, were imported in great quantities and were the common currency in Japan. People in Japan frequently cast more coins from these curculating coins. Because ciculating coins are less crisp than mother coins and also smaller due to shrinkage in the metal when it cools, iutsushi coins are smaller and the character quality overall is softer and more blurry. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to judge whether a coin is merely a worn down Chinese coin (each of which comes in a variety of sizes, script styles and metal content), a Japanese bitasen, a Chinese private counterfiet, a Vietnamese copy.... This is where the collecting and identification get very tough. What I present below is the best I can do at the moment but may contain some inaccuracies. Basically you look for smaller size, differing metal content and casting quality, and frequently a nearly smooth reverse. But metal content varies in even the standard mints, worn coins get smooth backs and soft characters etc...

Eiraku Tsuuhou

This coin may just be a normal Chinese Yong Le Tong Bao. However the copper color is more common in Japan and there is a certain softness to the edges and blending to the inner rim that suggest it may be a high quality iutsushi.

24 mm x 1 mm

Tensei Genpou

This coin is almost certainly an iutsushi but I am not sure if it is Chinese or Japanese. The uneven metal color suggests the brown Japanese copper mix in places and the yellower Chinese copper mix in places.