Japan Mint Museum & Coin Factory Tour, Saitama Branch, Omiya, Saitama Prefecture 造幣局博物館さいたま支局大宮埼玉県
by Johannes Schonherr
The headquarters of the Japan Mint are in Osaka. They feature a museum displaying a great number of historic coins and various coin-minting equipment, you can lift up historic coin bags and experience the heaviness of their weight.For a peek at the actual manufacture of today's coins, however, you have to visit the Saitama Branch of the Japan Mint in Omiya ward.
Saitama Branch Mint Museum
Admission is free at the Saitama Branch Mint Museum. You need to sign in with your name, though, and wear a guest badge throughout your visit. When signing in, you are also handed a folder containing a brochure explaining the history and features of the Japan Mint in both Japanese and English.
Upon entering the museum lobby, there are videos of the history of Japanese coins playing on various screens, you can feel the weight of coins by lifting up some of the coin bags provided and there are seats to sit down and study the booklet provided.
But you might also just walk into the exhibition rooms. All exhibits are sufficiently labeled in English though the details are given only in Japanese.
The exhibition starts with an overview of how coins are manufactured today. Both photos and actual examples show how molten metal is pressed into sheets from which coin blanks are then cut. After a thorough cleaning, the blanks are minted into coins. It takes a bit more refinement and lots of inspections and accounting until they reach the public.
Orders and Olympic Medals
Making monetary coins for daily use is however not the only business of the Japan Mint. They also manufacture the high orders the Emperor hands to selected people to decorate them for their merits, they produce the medals for the winners at Olympic Games taking place in Japan. Gold, silver and bronze medals from the 1964 Tokyo Olympic, the 1972 Winter Games in Sapporo and the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano are on display.
Finally, you reach the section with the historic coins. The Wado Kaichin, first minted in 708 A.D., was the first government-issued Japanese coin. Wado Kaichin were made from copper mined in Wadokuroya near today's city of Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture. The coins were used to finance the construction of the then new capital of Japan, Nara.
A mint condition Wado Kaichin coin is on display at the museum. From there, the exhibition guides you through the history of Japanese coin production. Upon the release of the Wado Kaichin, similar coins were domestically produced, but by the Heian Period (794-1185), Japanese-made coins went largely out of use.
Barter trade was back in fashion in a reaction to shoddily made and thus untrustworthy domestic coins. If coins were used during Heian times at all, they were imported Chinese coins.
The perhaps most impressive coins on display are those made under the rule of Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1585-1591) and during the Edo Period (1603-1868). They come in very unusual shapes and the big-nomination ones look just like officially stamped chunks of pure gold (which they were not, they were artfully crafted).
In 1871, the Meiji Government set up today's Japan Mint. Headquartered in Osaka, the new mint introduced the Yen as Japan's new currency in the same year.
The Osaka Mint set new standards in Japanese industrial history. Not only were all coin-making machines imported from Europe but European industrial methods were introduced at the same time. Western-style haircuts and dresses were forced onto the staff. Today, the Japan Mint claims that their Osaka plant laid a good part of the groundwork necessary to turn Osaka into the thriving industrial and financial center it has since become .
Tokyo Branch to Saitama Branch
A Tokyo Branch of the Japan Mint was founded as early as 1879 but it did not start producing coins for public use until 1941. The facility, located in Ikebukuro, moved to Omiya, Saitama in October 2016.
Coin Factory Tour
A bridge leads from the Mint Museum to the Coin Factory. It's time to pack the camera away now. The factory area is for viewing only, taking photos is strictly prohibited.
The furnaces producing the metal sheets are not on display. In fact, they most likely are at the Mitsubishi Materials factory next door. What you can see are the machines minting the coins and the quality check of the coins. Though some of the machines are certainly large, in general, the impression is peeking into a set of rather small, brightly lit workshops.
The Saitama Branch seems to be the branch responsible for the high-value products: 500 yen coins, Imperial Orders and Commemorative cloisonné coins.
Moving higher up the floors of the factory, you get to ever more specialized workshops. There, the imperial orders are made in painstaking individual handwork as are the cloisonné. The workers are in full view. They are used to the visitors gawking through the glass fronts, they won't give you a glance while they concentrate on the details of their craft.
After signing out and returning the guest badge, you might want to head over to the museum shop. Just for a look, that is. There are cheap boxes labeled "Gold Coin of the Meiji Era" but they contain only cookies. But the store also sells the real thing: colorful commemorative cloisonné coins produced in-house. Starting at about 140,000 yen, they certainly would make for a very special souvenir.
Hours and Admission
Hours: Opening times: Monday-Friday from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm, closed on weekends and public holidays.
Address: 190-22 Kitabukuro-cho, 1 Chome, Omiya-ku, Saitama-shi
Tel: 048 645 5899Website in English www.mint.go.jp/eng/enjoy-eng/eng_plant_mint_tour_tokyo.html
Mint Museum Access
The closest train station is Saitama Shintoshin, served by the JR Takasaki, JR Utsunomiya and JR Keihin Tohoku Lines. All three lines offer a direct connection from Ueno Station to Saitama Shintoshin, the Keihin Tohoku Line also connects directly to Tokyo Station, Shinagawa Station and Yokohama Station.
Walk out the East Exit of Saitama Shintoshin Station and follow the Metropolitan Expressway to Kitabukuro Intersection. Turn right at the intersection. The walk takes about 10 minutes.