The Japan Mint and Senpukan

Along the Okawa River, near Osaka Castle, there is a large white building. This building is main branch of the Japan Mint, and produces almost all the coins in Japan. The mint has been an extremely important influence on the city of Osaka and was responsible for helping modernize the city.

 

The History of the Japan Mint

While many important government buildings are in Tokyo, Osaka has managed to clinch ownership of the National Mint. But how did such an important government organization end up so far away from Tokyo? Some people say this is in part due to the fact that Tokyo had a very high crime rate at the time, but the more likely reason is that the machines for minting coins were already in Osaka.

These machines were initially bought from the English and sent to Japan via Hong Kong, and ultimately Osaka, during the Meiji Period. However, at this time Japan was in the process of deciding where the new nation’s capital should be. Since Osaka was vying for the position, the government decided to keep machines in Osaka until they could make a decision. Tokyo ultimately became the nation’s capital, but since all the equipment was in storage hundreds of miles away from Tokyo, it was simply less of a hassle to build the mint in Osaka.

Creating a National Currency

In the very beginning of the Meiji Period, the Japanese currency system was a complete mess. There were cities that primarily used gold, some that used silver, and others still that issued local bills, and all the while foreign currency was beginning to trickle into the country. In order to modernize, the Japanese government realized they needed a uniform national currency system.stone gates of the Japan Mint that read Japan Mint

Modernizing Osaka

After facing a number of hurdles, the Japan Mint at last finished completion in 1871. Shortly after that though, everyone quickly realized that making coins was more than simply stamping a piece of metal. Industrialized coin production demanded the use of chemicals and advanced skills in machinery and metal works, and unfortunately, there were very few people in Japan who were qualified to perform these task. The Japanese government therefore, decided to hire a lot of foreigners from England to help get things running. English soon became the dominate language at the mint. They even enforced a Westernized dress code! In this way, the mint became immensely responsible in the modernization of Osaka.

 

Getting to the Japan Mint

There are a number of ways to get to the Japan Mint. The mint is close to a couple subway stations, so it is pretty easy to access.

At the Nankai Tengachaya Station, take the Sakaisuji Subway Line to Minami Muromachi.

If you are already in Namba, ride the Midosuji Line to Yodoyabashi then transfer to the Keihan Main Line and get off at Temmabashi Station.

 

Japan Mint: Factory Tour and Museum

Entrance of the Japan mint as a security guard walks the grounds

Japan Mint, entrance

Free tours of the mint are available, however you must make a reservation in advance. Reservations can be made on the mint’s website. Also, be aware that tours are not available during Sakura season, which is typically during mid-April. 

Information packaged received with tour.

coin machinery at the Japan Mint

freshly minted 100 yen coins at the Japan Mint

Freshly minted coins

cases that shows the gradual process of coin making with varying stages of finished coins

Process of coin making

Robots run much of the manufacturing process at the mint. However, it is fascinating to watch the lifts operate by themselves. They can even sense when another lift is in the way, and will wait for it to move!

Coin lifting robot. It can even adapt its course is another robot suddenly slows down

Points of Interest

These gates once guarded the main entrance of the mint. The guard house, pictured here, is the same as when the mint was first built.

Old entrance

Due to the influx of western technology in the Meiji Period, the Japan Mint was on the cutting edge. For example, the mint had some of the very first gas lamps in Japan. 

old Meiji Period gas lamp at the Japan Mint

Meiji Period gas lamp

 

Senpukan

Across the street from the mint is a unique colonial style building. In fact, this is one of the oldest colonial style buildings in Japan, known as the Senpukan [泉布観]. Because the building is very old, only a limited number of people during a three day span in March, are allowed inside. It is free to visit the Senpukan, but you must apply in advance by mail (no website available! Snail mail only >___<). Visitors are then selected lottery style based on which days they applied for and sent an acceptance letter, with the designated day they are allowed to come.    

The Senpukan was named so by Emperor Meiji; senpu, meaning coin, and kan meaning building

The Senpukan, which was designed by the Englishman Thomas Waters, was built as guesthouse for important visitors to the mint during the 18th century. The building was unique at the time, not only because of the colonial design, but that it was also made almost entirely of brick.

Note* Old houses are notoriously dark, please bare with me!

1st Floor

Original crystal chandelier.

blue and white painted floor at the sempukan

Rare painted floor

The floor in these rooms is unique because the designed is painted on, rather than tiled, since tile was very expensive in Japan during the 18th century.

Room with rare blue and white 18th century painted floor in the Sempukan

2nd Floor

Special room designed especially for the emperor during his stay(s) at the Senpukan.

special 18th century western style room used by the emperor at the sempukan

The emperor’s special room.

The molding of the emperor’s room has phoenixes carved in to it. This detail is most likely present in the emperor’s chamber because of the bird’s symbolism.

Japanse style phoenix birds as ceiling moldings at the sempukan

Phoenix moldings

Additional guestroom

The toilets on the back veranda were some of the first examples of indoor plumbing in Japan.

Points of Interest

You might be wondering what this old building next to the Senpukan is. Actually, the front of this building is the old entrance of the Japan Mint. In the late 1920’s Osaka decided to remodel the mint. In order to preserve this portion of the building, they moved it next to the Senpukan. It now serves as the entrance to a wedding hall.

There is also a Japanese style garden behind the Senpukan.

Coming next time,

An introduction to the city “where everything begins”

The adventure continues…

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