Nishu gin (二朱銀)

Nishu gin silver is a kind of silver coin circulated in Japan in the end of Edo period.

It is Hyoki kahei, whose face value is written on the coins, while Chogin (collective term of silver) and mameitagin (a kind of Edo-period coins) are Hyoryo kahei (currency valued by weight), whose currency value is determined by weight.

It is rectangular. It has a face value of 2 shu. It is treated as equal to Nishu kin gold, a gold coin, in currency value and worth 1/8 ryo, that is, 1/2 bu.

Starting with Nanryo Nishu gin silver, such coins had been minted until Ansei Nishu gin silver in 1859. A sentence was written on the surface of Nanryo Nishu gin silver which said "Eight coins of Nanryo can be exchanged with a koban (former Japanese oval gold coin) of 1 ryo," but merely a simple word "Nishu gin" was written on that of Ansei Nishu gin silver.

Ansei Nishu gin

Ansei Nishu gin silver was Keisu ginka (a silver coin whose value is determined by the amount written on it) minted only for international trade after June 25, 1859, with an intention to prevent the outflow of koban to foreign countries in preparation to the opening of Yokohama Port scheduled for July 1, 1859, due to Japan-U.S. Treaty of Peace and Amity, and it was also called Boeki Nishu (Nishu for international trade). It was also called Baka (fool) Nishu, because in spite of its large size it had only half the face value of ichibu-gin silver, which were smaller in size. It is said that it got this name from the failure to achieve its original purpose of the issue.

In 1853 the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) was forced to open its port as a result of the arrival of Kurofune (The Black Ships of Commodore Matthew Perry) at Uraga offshore, and on June 12, 1854, a negotiation was started at Ryosen-ji Temple in Shimoda City concerning exchange rates between Japanese and Western currencies. The United States of America insisted that equivalent weights of gold coins and equivalent weights of silver coins should be exchanged.

Meanwhile, the bakufu argued as follows:

A twenty-dollar gold coin weighing 8.8 monme (about 33g) can be converted to 627g of silver because 1 monme (3.75g) of gold coin is equal to 71.25g of silver, and so one dollar is valued at 31.35g of silver.

As a one-dollar silver coin, a foreign silver coin, is regarded as bare metal, its pure silver content, 23.2g, is valued at 60g of common silver currency (Tenpo Chogin), because 10 monme (37.5g) of pure silver is purchased at silver mint for 97.5g of Tenpo Chogin. It is equal in value to about one-fourth of 1 ryo, so one dollar is worth 1bu. In addition, an ichibu-gin silver coin is nominal money and equivalent to the coin certificate of koban, which is a standard coin containing the same amount gold as gold coins worth four dollars.

Of those arguments, gold coins were left out of the negotiation because they were too lowly valued, and the negotiation was focused on silver coins. But the negotiation was not concluded at this point.

On October 7, 1856, a conference was held with Townsend HARRIS, American consul general, at Shimoda Goyo-sho (a government office), and he argued as follows. As Tenpo ichibu-gin silver in circulation weighs 2.3 monme (8.62g) and a one-dollar silver coin weighs 26.73g, one hundred dollars are equal in value to 310 ichibu-gin silver coins. Thus three ichibu-gin silver coins, weighing about one third of a one-dollar silver coin, should be converted to one dollar, he argued.

In the end, HARRIS won the dispute by insisting that nominal silver coins to which a higher value than their real value was attached would not be internationally accepted, and forced the bakufu to accept an exchange rate of 3 bu to the dollar where the same quantity of the same material was being exchanged. HARRIS, familiar with the trade with China, considered 1 ryo in Japan to be 1 ryo (tael; 37.3g) of silver just as 1 ryo in China, and drew his conclusion also from the fact that a one-dollar silver coin weighed about three fourths of a tael and an ichibu-gin silver coin happened to weigh about one fourth of a tael.

Thus the bakufu emitted Ansei koban, which had been made lighter to four fifths of Tenpo koban, and Ansei Nishu gin silver coins, which weighed almost half as much as a one-dollar silver coin, on June 30, 1859, in an attempt to shift to an exchange rate of 1 bu to the dollar and to modify the exchange ratio between gold and silver to 17:21, a ratio a little more favorable to gold than the international standard. Meanwhile, as Nishu gin silver coins contained about four thirds of silver in spite that its face value was half of ichibu-gin silver, the bakufu decided to limit the use of those coins to international trade because it could not emit a large quantity of good money, accustomed to emitting bad money for the purpose of acquiring marginal gain. It is said that the bakufu had to emit Ansei Chogin with its quality of silver lowered, in order to secure the sufficient amount of silver required to mint the Nishu gin silver coins. However, Ansei Chogin was emitted on January 19, 1860, after mintage of Ansei Nishu silver coins was terminated.

These Nishu gin silver coins started to be exchanged with one-dollar silver coins at treaty ports on June 2, but they could be used only in those ports and lacked functions of a common currency because they had to be exchanged into ichibu-gin silver coins for domestic use, for it was difficult to distribute Nishu gin silver coins, which contained comparatively much silver, all over Japan in the first place, and ichibu-gin silver coins were still generally in circulation. Such Japanese policies, in which one-dollar silver coins were exchanged with coins which were not generally circulated in Japan and the buying strength of one-dollar coins in Japan was lowered to one-third, provoked harsh protests from foreign ambassadors including HARRIS and Rutherford ALCOCK, who insisted that such policies violated the treaty, and so the bakufu, admitting its mistake, ordered kaikojo-bugyo (commissioner of treaty port) to exchange a one-dollar silver coin with three ichibu-gin silver coins from June 22, and terminated circulation of Ansei Nishu silver coins on the next day, June 23. Thus Ansei Nishu silver coins circulated only for twenty-two days, and Ansei koban was minted only for less than four months.

As a result, foreign ambassadors could make a large profit by first exchanging a one-dollar silver coin into three ichibu-gin silver coins, further exchanging four ichibu-gin silver coins into koban at ryogaesho (money exchangers), taking koban out of Japan and selling them as bare metal.

Based on the Gresham's law, however, the amount of mintage of koban, which was good money, was decreased and nominal coins such as Nishu kin gold and ichibu-gin silver coins, which were bad money, prevailed in the market, so a great amount of premium was demanded for an exchange of ichibu-gin coins into koban. Furthermore, ichibu-gin silver coins got scarce at the treaty ports in no time because foreigners demanded exchanges of so many one-dollar silver coins into ichibu-gin silver coins. Nevertheless, so large a quantity of koban was taken out of Japan in so short a time that there was a serious shortage of gold coins in Japan. It is said that foreign ambassadors could make profits by repeating such cycles of exchange five to six times a year.

As a solution to the scarcity of ichibu-gin silver coins, HARRIS proposed to remint Mexico silver and one-dollar silver coins into ichibu-gin silver coins on July 29. The bakufu accepted this proposal and started to emit Ansei ichibu-gin silver coins, which contained the same quality of silver as foreign ones, on August 13. But these coins did not prevent but rather accelerated the outflow of koban to foreign countries.

The scarcity of ichibu-gin silver coins in cities around the trading port was not improved by issuance of Ansei ichibu-gin silver coins, so HARRIS requested the bakufu to increase mintage of ichibu-gin silver coins in a prompt manner, but they were not emitted so promptly; thus HARRIS requested the bakufu to engrave a mark on foreign silver coins and to make them circulate as 3 bu. This is how "Aratame-sanbu-sada" gin (silver coins revised to 3 bu) were created, by engraving a mark "Aratame-sanbu-sada" on Mexican 8-real silver coins. But these Aratame-sanbu-sada gin silver coins were worth only 2 bu 2 shu in Japan, and the engraving operation, which was started on January 21, 1860, was terminated on as early as June 30, 1860.

Later, an English consul general ALCOCK, in his book "Okimi no Miyako" (the capital of the tycoon), admitted that gold coins were poured out of Japan because a value higher than that of raw materials was attached to ichibu-gin silver coins while Tenpo koban, Japanese standard coins, contained the same amount of gold as gold coins worth four dollars, but it was after the massive outpouring of koban.

[Original Japanese]