Yesterday I assisted a perplexed teacher. In Japan teachers often collect money (集金) from their students. Funds for paper and pencils, special science or cooking projects, field trip fees, school lunches, etc. are paid in cash on specific days. Additional funds are collected in minute payments for things like lost name tags, buttons, and such. Teachers must calculate how many students are involved and count up (or chase down) the funds. Our second grade homeroom teacher gathered 500 yen from each student.
We have 500 yen coins – the heaviest coins in circulation – so the teacher came in like a Nottingham tax collector with a jangling sack of loot. Of course the teachers always look a little distressed when it is time to count up the funds, but this time her expression betrayed a deeper concern. She thinks of me as the solver of all troubles and seeker of knowledge, so after digging two coins from the midst of the booty, she turned to me with questions.
My first reaction was that she was being swindled by those clever 7 year olds, but I investigated further. The standard 500 yen coins are a brassy color and have writing embossed on the edge. These coins have a silver core and brassy outer ring like the Canadian two-neys. Also they have a lot of English writing on them which was the source of my initial consternation. Googling the English text gave a link to a Japanese Mint webpage and a little growth in confidence.
JAPAN 47 PREFECTURES COIN PROGRAM
In 1947 Japan passed the Local Autonomy Law (地方自治法) which decentralized power, putting more of it in the hands of prefectures and other divisions. Apparently the law has been enforced since 1948 and a series of coins is being minted to commemorate 60 years of enforcement. Doing the math you’ll realize that the first coins became available in 2008 (three years ago). Over the next several years they should release 47 coins: one for each prefecture. The coins I saw were for Shimane and Kyoto.
Neither I nor the teacher (nor anyone else we have asked) had seen these coins before yesterday, so this is a bit of a mystery for us. If the coins were in circulation for three years I would expect that – given the amount of change that teachers handle – we would have seen at least one before now. Two students transferred from Tokyo recently which led my colleague to hypothesize that these are in common use in the capital and haven’t spread to the countryside yet. One worry is that the coins were taken from dad’s coin collection or something: I hope that isn’t the case.
Also, the website indicates 1000 yen coins as well. We have no other 1000 yen coins in circulation, so I don’t expect these to turn up in pocket change. One side of these coins is brightly colored, making them not useful for general circulation. I guess they are purely for collector types.