Meiji Tsuho (明治通宝)

Meiji Tsuho are governmental bills (non-convertible paper money) issued at the beginning of the Meiji period. They are well-known in Japan as the first bills of Western-style printing. They are also called ''German bills'' because they were produced in a private factory in Frankfurt am Main in Germany.


A new government was formed by the Meiji Restoration, which was in need for military expenditures; therefore, a great amount of paper money had been issued. However, they were miscellaneous bills issued by the government and nongovermental organizations such as Dajokan (Grand Council of State) bills, Prefecture bills, Mimbusho (Ministry of Popular Affairs) bills, Kawase-gaisha(Exchange Company) bills, which wereof the same style as Han (domain) bills in the Edo period, and there were also a large number of counterfeited bills. For this reason, introduction of modern bills was necessary as well as the introduction of a common currency ''yen (currency)'' for Japan to be a modern nation.

At first, the Japanese government had planned to order the new bills from the U.K., but the firm of Dondorf and Normann from Germany persuaded the government saying their ''relief printing'' was effective to prevent counterfeiting. Moreover, they offered to transfer the technique to Japan, which would allow Japan to obtain the modern printing technique; therefore the Japanese government ordered nine kinds of bills in October 1870, of which the total amount was worth 50,000,000 yen (later on they ordered an additional amount of 53,530,000 yen).

In 1871, the next year, the bills which they had ordered in December started to arrive, however, these bills were found not to be perfect upon safety measures. Thus, they added the words ''Meiji Tsuho'' and the official seal of ''Okurakyo (Minister of the Treaty) '' before printing. Also, at the beginning, 100 people wrote the letters of ''Meiji Tsuho'' on the bills by hand, and then they figured out it would take too much time because there were nearly 200,000,000 bills, which were worth approximately 100,000,000 yen; therefore, they switched to woodblock printing and discarded 52,000 bills which had been handwritten. Meiji Tsuho, issued in May 1872, were welcomed by the people as fresh bills that announced the arrival of a new period, and at the same time, the removal of the former bills in circulation was proceeded.

As the circulation progressed, however, they found some inconvenience in Meiji Tsuho. Firstly, some bills of different face values were of the identical size, so forgery changing the face values was rampant and counterfeiting happened very frequently. Also, they had defects that they were easily damaged and discolored probably because the Western paper used for Japanese bills were not suitable for the Japanese climate of high temperature and humidity.

Later, according to the contract, the technique transfer was proceeded and the original plates were delivered to Japan. As a result, Meiji Tsuho bills were switched to domestic production, which happened to be useful to the immense expenditures during the Seinan War, which broke out in 1877.

Main features of Meiji Tsuho bills

The design was vertical with two Chinese phoenix and two dragons. The use was banned after December 31, 1899, and these bills were abolished.


The design of Meiji Tsuho was later used in manufacturing Japanese military bills, Taiwan Bank bills, and SC First Bank (Standard Chartered First Bank Korea Limited) bills. Also, as for the military bills, this design was used until the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War in the Showa period.

[Original Japanese]