In the news: Discovery of Kocho-Junisen coins – a river ritual involving the tossing of coin offerings to river gods?

Wado Kaichin – 1st of the Kocho Juni Sen (Photo courtesy: Lion Coins)
What were Kocho-Junisen?
Kocho-Junisen are copper coins that were issued by the government over a 250 year period from 708 following the mintage of the earlier Wado Kaichin or Wado Kaiho coins. There were twelve kinds of copper coins in production.
03/13/2006 The Asahi Shimbun
YAO, Osaka Prefecture–Everybody at some time has tossed a coin into a fountain, or elsewhere, for good luck. It turns out the practice has been around for well over 1,000 years, probably longer.
That, archaeologists say, may explain the recent discovery of rare copper coins from the Nara (710-784) and early Heian (794-1185) periods at a dried-up riverbed here.
The coins are special because they are what are known as Kocho-Junisen, a term used for 12 types of copper coins minted in Japan by the imperial court of the time.
These included so-called Kangen-Taiho coins that were minted in 958 and were the last “made in Japan” coinage before the imperial court switched to relying on imports from China.
Archaeologists said seven types of coins were discovered, along with fragments of earthenware jars that suggest they were tossed into a tributary of the Yamatogawa river in a ritual to bring salvation and ward off illness. Distinctive faces were painted in black ink on the small containers.
In total, 23 Kocho-Junisen coins were found out at the site. The coins all were stamped with the Chinese character mon, which apparently specified its value.
Researchers speculated the coins were intentionally tossed into the river.
“Maybe it was a public servant, or someone who was in such a position who could obtain coins, who repeatedly conducted the rituals by the river,” said a board of education official.
The tributary ran north-south for about 80 meters and is between 10 and 15 meters wide. The coins were found scattered along the entire stretch of old waterway.
One coin, known as Wado Kaichin, is thought to be the first copper coin minted in Japan. Researchers dated it to 708.
Other precious finds include five so-called Ryuhei Eiho coins from 796; seven Showa Shoho coins from 835, and one Teikan Eiho coin from 870.
Most of the coins had been freshly minted when they were tossed into the river.
In 1998, 61 Wado Kaichin coins were excavated from the site.
Archaeologists say religious rites and other ritual ceremonies were probably performed along the riverbank for 100 years or so.
Masayoshi Mizuno, professor emeritus of archaeology at Nara University, said: “It is extremely rare to discover a batch of Kocho-Junisen together at one site.”(IHT/Asahi: March 13,2006)
Further Reading:
For a detailed discussion on the history of early Kocho-Junisen and other 8th-10th century Japanese coinage, see Japanese Coins:
” One of the oldest histories of Japan, the Nihon Shoki of 720 AD, indicates that metal coins were used in 487 AD, but whether these came from Korea, China or Japan is unknown. It was not until the reign of the Emperor Temmu (Temmu’s reign lasted from 672 until his death in 686) that copper coins were widely circulated. However, as with all of Japan’s historical records pre-700 it is difficult to determine what is accurate history and what is myth-making. It is not until the minting of the Wado Kaichin in 708 that there is undeniable evidence of Japanese coinage.”
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