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Coin found in Japan's Hokkaido was extra special 1,200 years ago


An imperial coin discovered in Japan's far north may be special to modern archaeologists, but it must have been more so to one lucky person 1,200 or so years ago.

Coin found in Japan's Hokkaido was extra special 1,200 years ago
An ancient coin unearthed from sediment dating to around the ninth century at an archaeological site in Shari, Hokkaido 
[Credit: Shari Town Board of Education]
It suggests that there was at least "indirect contact" between the Okhotsk culture of northern Hokkaido and Japan's main island of Honshu as early as the ninth century.

And for the person who held the coin all that time ago, it was probably even more valuable.

“The coin may have been used as a prestige item to establish a high social status by showing an ability to exchange with people in distant locations,” said Hirofumi Kato, a professor of anthropology at Hokkaido University’s Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies.

The discovery of the coin issued by the imperial court during the Nara Period (710-784) was made from sediment dating to around the 800s at an archaeological site on Cape Chashikotsu, or Casi-kot in Ainu, Shari town’s board of education said Nov. 15.

The remains of 31 houses have been found on the dig site, which is located atop a giant rock with 50-meter-high cliffs that juts out into the ocean. The coin was found in the ruins of a dwelling next to fish bones and pottery shards.

Coin found in Japan's Hokkaido was extra special 1,200 years ago
The dig site in Shari, Hokkaido, from which the coin issued during the Nara Period (710-784) was found 
[Credit: Shari Town Board of Education]
“This is an important discovery that suggests that the northern Okhotsk culture had indirect exchanges, via southern Hokkaido, with the nation on Honshu under a ritsuryo code,” said an official with the Shiretoko Museum.

While Japan was under the Chinese-influenced political system at the time, the northeastern areas of Hokkaido, mainly along the Sea of Okhotsk, were home to the Okhotsk culture.

The unearthed coin is called a “Jingukaiho,” or “Jinkokaiho,” depending on how the four kanji characters stamped on its face are read.

It was first minted in 765, and was the third in the series of coinage known as “kocho junisen” (12 imperial coins) issued from the Nara Period through the Heian Period (794-1185).

All the circular coins have square holes punched in the middle, which are surrounded by four kanji characters that determine the name of the specie.

Coin found in Japan's Hokkaido was extra special 1,200 years ago
The coin was unearthed from ruins atop Cape Chashikotsu, or Casi-kot in Ainu, in Shari, Hokkaido 
[Credit: Shari Town Board of Education]
Kocho junisen coins have been unearthed in Hokkaido in the past, but this is the first one to be found at an Okhotsk culture site. It is also the northernmost discovery of such coinage in Japan.

Tsuyoshi Hirakochi, a curator at the town-run museum, said, “The coin may have been obtained via the Satsumon culture in southern and central Hokkaido.”

Satsumon culture belonged to the indigenous people of Hokkaido who learned agriculture through the influence of Japanese in Honshu. The merging of this and the Okhotsk culture is believed to have eventually formed the Ainu culture.

Thought to have originated in regions further north of Hokkaido, the people of the Okhotsk culture migrated southward and reached the large Japanese island around the fifth century.

The culture flourished along the coast of Hokkaido facing the Sea of Okhotsk as a fishing hunter-gatherer society until around the ninth century.

Author: Toshiaki Miyanaga | Source: The Asahi Shimbun [November 16, 2016]
TANN

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