Japan 1 Bu Gin, Ansei 1859-1868

Page links:Gunboat diplomacyJapan, 18531 Bu Gin (pics)Dating by design

edo woodblock of the black ships in Japan
The Black Ships in Tokyo Bay, 1853

New market acquisition, 19th century style

Writing after the conclusion, and with personal experience of the Napoleonic wars, Carl Von Clausewitz set down a military philosophy that is still considered relevant for study today.

The influence of his work perhaps was even stronger in the mid 1800s, when his most famous saying – “War is the continuation of policy with other means” – no doubt gave comfort to the politicians and admirals advocating ‘gunboat diplomacy’, an international relations technique for expanding trading opportunities refined by Great Britain and used to great effect in China, aka the ‘Opium Wars’.

Enter the USA…

To be fair, that sort of bullying has a long history which can be traced through the Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish imperial traditions.

This makes it hard to pin any blame on the United States when they joined the global trade expansion party from the 1850s as they were only doing what, you know, everyone else had been doing for ages… and, recalling the Iberian efforts in the New World in particular, it is perhaps only fitting that in 1898 Spain not only lost its fleet to the US, but also what remained of its overseas empire – ‘karma’ springs to mind.

Enter Japan…

I daresay that many Japanese buddists would have been pondering the operation of karma back in 1853 when,

As the US State Department has put it,

“Perry arrived in Japanese waters with a small squadron of U.S. Navy ships, because he and others believed the only way to convince the Japanese to accept western trade was to display a willingness to use its advanced firepower.”


What did we do…?

At that point, Japan had only ever taken on Korea (unsuccessfully) during the 1590s and, since then, had never been anywhere near the US or anywhere else really, opting instead for a largely isolationist foreign policy after being forced off mainland Asia – so they may well have been wondering what on earth they had done previously to account for the rather threatening arrival of the Americans.

The Japanese are nothing if not stoic and pragmatic, two worthwhile traits shown clearly in the official response to Commodore Perry’s visit –

‘In the immediate aftermath of Perry’s departure, Abe Mashiro, chief counsellor to the emperor and effective ruler of the state, wrote:

“Everyone has pointed out that we are without a navy and that our coasts are undefended. Meanwhile the Americans will be here again next year. Our policy shall be to evade any answer to their request [to open the country to foreign trade] while at the same time maintaining a peaceful demeanour. It may be, however, that they will have recourse to violence. For that contingency we must be prepared unless the country suffer disgrace. Therefore every possible effort will be made to prepare the country for defence.”‘

“Battle At Sea”, John Keegan, Pimlico 2004, p163

Teething troubles

As it happened major fighting proved unnecessary until a later time, although the namamugi incident in 1862 probably did much to alert everyone as to just what they were going to have to learn how to deal with (moments before his death a British merchant, whose path was obstructed by the Shimazu daimyou’s retinue, told his companions “I know how to deal with these people” in what is all too easily imagined as typically boorish behaviour – notably a Dutch American merchant in a similar scenario had shown appropriate respect).

Naturally both sides had to make allowances and implement changes and interestingly, we can see the effects of, let’s say, Japan joining the international trading community, in their coinage.

Adjusting to reality

The rectangular silver currency was traditionally produced at a higher fineness than the silver dollars offered in exchange by the wave of foreigners, and so in order to avoid being short changed, subsequent mintages had a lower silver content, around 88% – just under the 90% Spanish Dollars and a good deal less than the previous domestic issues which were 97-99%.

Japan 1 Bu Gin, Ansei (1859-68)

Design details

This coin is a later, ‘normalised’ silver content variety – none of them feature dates as part of the design, however you can tell which date range it belongs to by considering the cherry blossom (sakura) motif around the edges both sides.

On genuine examples, one sakura each side will be inverted and the location of those indicates when the coin was produced and so helps establish its fineness.

Looking closely at the non-denomination side, the upside down cherry blossom is in the top left corner and on the other side it’s at the top center – with both appearing at the top of the coin, it seems safe to say this is an Ansei ichibu, meaning date range 1859-1868. [Having said that, another resource details the different ‘upside down’ combinations – using that suggests this coin is possibly an early example from 1854-59, although it lacks the counterstamp of the Shounai clan (which would make it a definitive Shounai 15..?!) – more research required!]

Anyway, this is still ‘samurai Japan’, but right at the end – the bakumatsu, or ‘final act of the shogunate’ – with a consquently reduced silver content (.873 Ag) reflecting Japanese acclimatisation to their new circumstances.

Happy Collecting!

Page links:Gunboat diplomacyJapan, 18531 Bu Gin (pics)Dating by design

Back to top

Many thanks for reading!

If you liked the post, please consider following the blog in order to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Back to top