Monday, September 18, 2006

The Befuddled Old Coin Dealer

Well, my Japanese Numismatic adventure began with a splash! I took the local train from my city south to the rustic little abode of Shirakawa (picture Little Rock with terraced rice fields). Armed with my tiny little Internet Map print-out with an address I couldn't read, I set out from the train station on foot. I quickly reached the post office that should have been 5-10 meters away, but could find no obvious coin dealer.

I asked some man in a barber-shop where the place was, and he told me it was the next block just behind me (a street which was conveniently deleted from my print-out). He told me to ask for a "matsuda san." After going over there however, I noticed no coin business in the location he mentioned, only another barbershop. There was a third hair salon with a couple women in it and I asked again, thinking I must have forgotten my Japanese in Italy. She however, confirmed that Matsuda-san lived there, and told me to ring him.

Matsuda-san's barbershop looked closed, but I rang anyways, only to have some old man answer the door, drop his jaw and gasp. Under his breath I caught him utter a faint, "gaijinne! (Isn't it a foreigner!). He quickly came to his senses, despite being in the presence of a pasty white guy 20 centimeters taller than he. He enthusiastically invited me in after I asked if he was indeed the coin dealer I had been seeking.

The "coin-dealer" as his business was advertised on the internet, was actually about 70 percent barbershop, with a glass retail counter on the back wall for his coins. He ran into the back room as I perused his collection. He came back out with some tea, and quickly asked where I was from. After learning that I was American, he smiled and eagerly showed me a whole leather album full of nothing but Eisenhower Dollars. After politely listening to him talk exitedly about Eisenhower Dollars, I asked about some older Japanese coins, but he kept showing me Dwight Eisenhower and State Quarters.

For whatever reason, he couldn't seem to fathom that I would have any interest at all in Japanese coins. I finally got him to show me some Meiji Silver 1 Yen pieces, which were quite nice. I finally bought one that dates to 1904 for about 4000 yen, or about 35 US dollars. I also bought the Japanese version of the "Red Book" which is the book that lists all the coins ever made in Japan.

For those of you who don't know, Japan does not officially count years from the birth of Christ, but rather, the number of years of the current reign of the Emperor. Thus, the current year is not 2006, but Heisei 18, and this is what appears on all the coins. When a new Emperor takes the throne, it starts at 1 again. So the coins to look for in circulation now, are ones from Showa 64, which is when the previous Emperor died shortly after the start of the new year. Because of this, very few Showa 64 coins were made, as most of the coins that year marked the beginning of the Heisei reign. So if you find one in circulation, you can count yourself lucky.

The Silver 1 Yen coin I bought dates to 1904 and features a cool looking dragon on one side. Its about the size of the old American Silver Dollars.

Matsuda san was a very sweet and generous old man. In light of his hospitality and charming disposition, I'm sorry to say I wasn't terribly impressed with his collection. Things were VERY disorganized, and often not properly stored. The man also had very poor eyesight. After misplacing his glasses on the counter, I had to give them back to him during his, "help I can't find my glasses!" fit. I certainly wasn't going to let him cut my hair or give me a shave.

Another thing about Shirakawa, they have about 2 barbershops or hair salons on every block! I have never seen so many barbershops in my life! What's up with all the barbershops?

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