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708-715)

THE Empress Gemmyo, fourth daughter of the Emperor Tenchi and consort
of Prince Kusakabe, was the mother of the Emperor Mommu, whose
accession had been the occasion of the first formal declaration of
the right of primogeniture (vide Chapter XV). Mommu, dying, willed
that the throne should be occupied by his mother in trust for his
infant son--afterwards Emperor Shomu.

REMOVAL OF THE CAPITAL TO NARA

In ancient times it was customary to change the locality of the
Imperial capital with each change of sovereign. This custom, dictated
by the Shinto conception of impurity attaching to sickness and death,
exercised a baleful influence on architectural development, and
constituted a heavy burden upon the people, whose forced labour was
largely requisitioned for the building of the new palace. Kotoku,
when he promulgated his system of centralized administration,
conceived the idea of a fixed capital and selected Naniwa. But the
Emperor Tenchi moved to Omi, Temmu to Asuka (in Yamato) and the
Empress Jito to Fujiwara (in Yamato). Mommu remained at the latter
place until the closing year (707) of his reign, when, finding the
site inconvenient, he gave orders for the selection of another. But
his death interrupted the project, and it was not until the second
year of the Empress Gemmyo's reign that the Court finally removed to
Nara, where it remained for seventy-five years, throughout the reigns
of seven sovereigns. Nara, in the province of Yamato, lies nearly due
south of Kyoto at a distance of twenty-six miles from the latter.
History does not say why it was selected, nor have any details of its
plan been transmitted. To-day it is celebrated for scenic beauties--a
spacious park with noble trees and softly contoured hills, sloping
down to a fair expanse of lake, and enshrining in their dales ancient
temples, wherein are preserved many fine specimens of Japanese art,
glyptic and pictorial, of the seventh and eighth centuries. Nothing
remains of the palace where the Court resided throughout a cycle and
a half, nearly twelve hundred years ago, but one building, a
storehouse called Shoso-in, survives in its primitive form and
constitutes a landmark in the annals of Japanese civilization, for it
contains specimens of all the articles that were in daily use by the
sovereigns of the Nara epoch.

JAPANESE COINS

There is obscurity about the production of the precious metals in old
Japan. That gold, silver, and copper were known and used is certain,
for in the dolmens,--which ceased to be built from about the close of
the sixth century (A.D.)--copper ear-rings plated with gold are
found, and gold-copper images of Buddha were made in the reign of the
Empress Suiko (605), while history says that silver was discovered in
the island of Tsushima in the second year of the Emperor Temmu's
reign (674). From the same island, gold also is recorded to have come
in 701, but in the case of the yellow and the white metal alike, the
supply obtained was insignificant, and indeed modern historians are
disposed to doubt whether the alleged Tsushima gold was not in
reality brought from Korea via that island. On the whole, the
evidence tends to show that, during the first seven centuries of the
Christian era, Japan relied on Korea mainly, and on China partially,
for her supply of the precious metals. Yet neither gold, silver, nor
copper coins seem to have been in anything like general use until the
Wado era (708-715).

Coined money had already been a feature of Chinese civilization since
the fourth century before Christ, and when Japan began to take models
from her great neighbour during the Sui and Tang dynasties, she
cannot have failed to appreciate the advantages of artificial media
of exchange. The annals allege that in A.D. 677 the first mint was
established, and that in 683 an ordinance prescribed that the silver
coins struck there should be superseded by copper. But this rule did
not remain long in force, nor have there survived any coins, whether
of silver or of copper, certainly identifiable as antecedent to the
Wado era. It was in the year of the Empress Gemmyo's accession (708)
that deposits of copper were found in the Chichibu district of
Musashi province, and the event seemed sufficiently important to call
for a change of year-name to Wado (refined copper). Thenceforth,
coins of copper--or more correctly, bronze--were regularly minted and
gradually took the place of rice or cotton cloth as units of value.

It would seem that, from the close of the seventh century, a wave of
mining industry swept over Japan. Silver was procured from the
provinces of Iyo and Kii; copper from Inaba and Suo, and tin from
Ise, Tamba, and Iyo. All this happened between the years 690 and 708,
but the discovery of copper in the latter year in Chichibu was on
comparatively the largest scale, and may be said to have given the
first really substantial impetus to coining. For some unrecorded
reason silver pieces were struck first and were followed by copper a
few months later. Both were of precisely the same form--round with a
square hole in the middle to facilitate threading on a string--both
were of the same denomination (one won), and both bore the same
superscription (Wado Kaiho, or "opening treasure of refined copper"),
the shape, the denomination, and the legend being taken from a coin
of the Tang dynasty struck eighty-eight years previously. It was
ordered that in using these pieces silver should be paid in the case
of sums of or above four mon, and copper in the case of sums of or
below three won, the value of the silver coin being four times that
of the copper. But the silver tokens soon ceased to be current and
copper mainly occupied the field, a position which it held for 250
years, from 708 to 958. During that interval, twelve forms of sen*
were struck. They deteriorated steadily in quality, owing to growing
scarcity of the supply of copper; and, partly to compensate for the
increased cost of the metal, partly to minister to official greed,
the new issues were declared, on several occasions, to have a value
ten times as great as their immediate predecessors. Concerning that
value, the annals state that in 711 the purchasing power of the mon
(i.e., of the one-sen token) was sixty go of rice, and as the daily
ration for a full-grown man is five go, it follows that one sen
originally sufficed for twelve days' sustenance.**

*The ideograph sen signified originally a "fountain," and its
employment to designate a coin seems to have been suggested by an
idea analogous to that underlying the English word "currency."

**"At the present time the wages of a carpenter are almost a yen a
day. Now the yen is equal to 1000 mon of the smaller sen and to 500
mon of the larger ones, so that he could have provided himself with
rice, if we count only 500 mon to the yen, for sixteen years on the
wages which he receives for one day's labour in 1900." (Munro's Coins
of Japan.)

Much difficulty was experienced in weaning the people from their old
custom of barter and inducing them to use coins. The Government seems
to have recognized that there could not be any effective spirit of
economy so long as perishable goods represented the standard of
value, and in order to popularize the use of the new tokens as well
as to encourage thrift, it was decreed that grades of rank would be
bestowed upon men who had saved certain sums in coin. At that time
(711), official salaries had already been fixed in terms of the Wado
sen. The highest received thirty pieces of cloth, one hundred hanks
of silk and two thousand mon, while in the case of an eighth-class
official the corresponding figures were one piece of cloth and twenty
mon.* The edict for promoting economy embodied a schedule according
to which, broadly speaking, two steps of executive rank could be
gained by amassing twenty thousand mon and one step by saving five
thousand.

*These figures sound ludicrously small if translated into present-day
money, for 1000 mon go to the yen, and the latter being the
equivalent of two shillings, 20 mon represents less then a
half-penny. But of course the true calculation is that 20 mon
represented 240 days' rations of rice in the Wado schedule of values.

Observing that the fundamental principle of a sound token of exchange
was wholly disregarded in these Wado sen, since their intrinsic value
bore no appreciable ratio to their purchasing power, and considering
also the crudeness of their manufacture, it is not surprising to find
that within a few months of their appearance they were extensively
forged. What is much more notable is that the Wado sen remained in
circulation for fifty years. The extraordinary ratio, however, by
which copper and silver were linked together originally, namely, 4 to
1, did not survive; in 721 it was changed to 25 to 10, and in the
following year to 50 to 10. Altogether, as was not unnatural, the
early treatment of this coinage question by Japanese statesmen showed
no trace of scientific perception. The practice, pursued almost
invariably, of multiplying by ten the purchasing power of each new
issue of sen, proved, of course, enormously profitable to the
issuers, but could not fail to distress the people and to render
unpopular such arbitrarily varying tokens.

The Government spared no effort to correct the latter result, and
some of the devices employed were genuinely progressive. In that
epoch travellers had to carry their own provisions, and not
uncommonly the supply ran short before they reached their
destination, the result sometimes being death from starvation on the
roadside. It was therefore ordered that in every district (korf) a
certain portion of rice should be stored at a convenient place for
sale to wayfarers, and these were advised to provide themselves with
a few sen before setting out. It is evident that, since one of the
Wado coins sufficed to buy rice for twelve days' rations, a traveller
was not obliged to burden himself with many of these tokens. Wealthy
persons in the provinces were also admonished to set up roadside
shops for the sale of rice, and anyone who thus disposed of one
hundred koku in a year was to be reported to the Court for special
reward.



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