Zenigata Sunae drone view

The Kan’ei Tsūhō Currency and Zenigata Sunae

Japanese commodity money prior to the 8th century took the form of gold powder, arrowheads, and rice grains. Japanese coinage was influenced by the Chinese Tang coinage, Kaigentsūhō (Kai Yuan Tong Bao in Chinese). The first Japanese formal currency system was Kōchōsen (“Imperial currency”). The Wadōkaichin, or Wadō-kaihō, is the oldest official Japanese coinage minted as early as 708 CE on the orders of Empress Gemmei. Wadōkaichin are the four characters printed on the coin. Its name is derived from the era name Wadō (“Japanese copper”) and could also alternately mean “happiness” and “Kaichin,” which is thought to be related to “Currency.”

Kan'ei Tsūhō coins

Like the Wadōkaichin, Kan’ei Tsūhō was an inscription used on Japanese currency from 1626 until 1868. The Kan’ei Tsūhō coin was the first government minted copper coin in 700 years.

 Kan’ei Tsūhō coins. | As6022014

The Kan’ei Tsūhō was introduced by the Tokugawa shogunate as a way to standardize copper coins and to have enough supply of the coinage.  The coin was initially introduced in the Mito domain and after its early success, it became the currency of the common people.

The isolationist policies of the Tokugawa shogunate halted the outflow of the Kan’ei Tsūhō coins but it continued to be the main coin circulating across the country, and was minted for 230 years even if the Kan’ei era ended in 1643. The coins continued to bear the Kan’ei legend even when a new denomination of the coin was introduced a century later. The Kan’ei Tsūhō coins were not all uniform in size as the mintage was outsourced to regional and local merchants who would cast them at varying sizes and weights including local mint marks at times. In 1738, the government authorized the manufacturing of iron Kan’ei Tsūhō coins. The quality of copper Kan’ei Tsūhō coins would gradually decrease due to frequent debasements. Nonetheless, the coins became a cultural symbol of sorts as samurai clans and shrines adopted its design as part of their coats of arms.

Zenigata Sunae

Zenigata Sunae.

Along the Arike Beach in Kan-onji, lies a massive sand painting (sunae) of a Kan’ei Tsūhō. It is approximately 1132 feet in circumference. Though seemingly circular in shape when viewed from the observation deck nearby, the Zenigata Sunae, as the sand painting is called, it is actually an oblong-shaped design. The popular legend of the origins of the Zenigata Sunae sand painting tells us that it was made by the local community overnight in 1633 as a sign of respect to the Lord of the Marugame Domain. Researchers believe the sand painting was made possibly during the first half of the 19th century or even earlier.

Visitors to the Zenigata Sunae are generally limited to twice a year in April and October during the Keshō-na’oshi (“makeup touch-up”) where hundreds of volunteers fix the sand art to maintain its appearance. The Zenigata Sunae sand art is now known as a “power spot” where one can receive good luck.