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Hansatsu banknotes are fascinating and eclectic additions to any banknote collection. A large part of their allure is the mysterious nature that eludes a great many of us in their cryptic writings. Not only is the Kanji script hard for most non-Japanese speakers to decipher, but the ancient and various methods of dating them, along with the their different valuations cause many collectors to set them aside as mere curiosities. In an effort to help understand these wonderful banknotes, I have scoured many different resources for information, cleaned up much of the old text and vagaries, and placed the new information together in this one article. With this information, it is possible that you will be able to find the dates of hansatsu and verifying the source of their issue.

 

 

When Hansatsu were produced, they were not the only means of currency around. Coinage was also used, but in addition to that, commodities such as rice and fish were also valued highly enough to be treated as a unit of monetary exchange, as were oil, wine and other such items. Rice was undoubtedly the more valuable as a unit of currency, and issued even as income to many people. In one example, a local feudal lord, the Daimyo, would have the majority of his income in rice, mainly from tax payments from the populace. The feudal lord would be able to sell his surplus rice for money or other goods and merchandise. Many hansatsu have denominations in equivalence to a measure of rice, or for a denomination, such as a monme of rice.

 

Dates on Japanese Hansatsu are quite different from those on modern banknotes. The dates the Japanese used included using both a zodiacal system based on a 60-year cycle, and a Japanese system called Nengo, or a ruler declared era usually marking a new ruler or other milestone.

 

For example, the name of a current period such as ‘Kyoho 15 Kanoe Inu’ where Kyoho was a period from the years 1716-1735, and ‘Kanoe Inu’ was the 47th year of the Japanese zodiac calendar. If you have the number with the Nengo year as above, Kyoho 15, then it is easy enough to count from 1716 to 1730, thus arriving at the date. If the number is not included, or hard to see, then you will need the zodiac dates as well.

 

While the era, or period gives a general time frame, the cyclical zodiac calendar specifies the year which is separated by 60 year gaps; so in this instance we have years 1610,1670,1730,1790,1850,1910 to choose from. As we know (from the tables below) that the general era was from 1716-1735, we can easily deduce that the year issued would have to be 1730.  The zodiac information is generally tucked between the Nengo number and the character for the year:

 

Kyoho - 15 – Kanoe - Inu (year of the dog)

 

If this all seems a little complex, don’t worry – there will be tables to reference this all in a little later on. But first we have to be able to read what is written. Japanese calligraphy is called Kanji and is a very pretty script, but it can be hard for those who are not used to it to interpret. Kanji is read from top to the bottom and from right to left.

 

The trick is that they did not always include both the Zodiacal and Nengo systems. Sometimes only one was used, and sometimes no dates were used at all. In addition, while there were some repeated systems for placement of dates and places, these were not a steadfast rule followed by all the issuers. These methods are not uncommon in very old practice, but with the added usage of Kanji script, and not having a designated system of placement of dates and places, it can be quite difficult for the non-Japanese linguist to decipher these amazing banknotes. 

 

The following table lists the Nengo Eras. The first Nengo was the Taikwa in 645 AD. However, we are only concerned with the eras for Hansatsu dating, which starts with the year 1661 which was the Kwambun era,  and ends with the year 1868 Meiji era. I have included years preceding and following, from the year 1532 – present. Nengo eras were not consistent in length. They changed with new emperors, or when an important event occurred that changed the times for good or bad.  Remember, if you can read a number after the Nengo era, all you have to do is count, and you will arrive at the correct year.

 

Kanji of Nengo Era

Romanization of Era

Western Year

Era Length

Notes

Nengo in the Edo Era  1603 - 1867

天文

Tenmon

1532

23

Also Tenbun

弘治

Koji

1555

3

 

永禄

Eiroku

1558

12

 

元亀

Genki

1570

3

 

天正

Tensho

1573

19

 

文禄

Bunroku

1592

4

 

慶長

Keicho

1596

19

Also Kyocho

元和

Genna

1615

9

Also Genwa

寛永

Kan’ei

1624

20

 

正保

Shoho

1644

4

 

慶安

Keian

1648

4

Also Kyoan

承応

Joo

1652

3

Also Shoo

明暦

Meireki

1655

3

Also Meiraku

万治

Manji

1658

3

 

寛文

Kanbun

1661

12

First Hansatsu issued by Yamada Hagaki

延宝

Enpo

1673

8

Also Enho

天和

Tenna

1681

3

Also Tenwa

貞享

Jokyo

1684

4

 

元禄

Genroku

1688

16

 

宝永

Hoei

1704

7

 

正徳

Shotoku

1711

5

 

享保

Kyoho

1716

20

 

元文

Genbun

1736

5

 

寛保

Kanpo

1741

3

Also Kanho

延享

Enkyo

1745

4

 

寛延

Kan’En

1748

3

 

宝暦

Horeki

1751

13

Also Horyaku

明和

Meiwa

1764

8

 

安永

An’ei

1772

9

 

天明

Tenmei

1781

8

 

寛政

Kansei

1789

12

 

享和

Kyowa

1801

3

 

文化

Bunka

1804

14

 

文政

Bunsei

1818

12

 

天保

Tenpo

1830

14

Also Tenho

弘化

Koka

1844

4

 

嘉永

Kaei

1848

6

 

安政

Ansei

1854

6

 

万延

Man’en

1860

1

 

文久

Bunkyu

1861

3

 

元治

Genji

1864

1

 

慶応

Keio

1865

3

 

Nengo in the Modern Era – 1868 - Present

明治

Meiji

1868

44

 

大正

Taisho

1912

14

 

昭和

Showa

1926

64

 

平成

Heisei

1989

--

Modern Rule

 

So remember, if we are lucky and get the numbers after the Nengo era, we can just count. But we should look at some Japanese Numbers before we get too far along. Remember, that when you encounter these numbers, they will most likely be written down on Hansatsu in a vertical – top to bottom – convention. I have included the Hiragana script as well.

 

Kanji

 

Hiragana

 

English

 

or 壱

いち

1

2

さん

3

し、 よん

4

5

ろく

6

しち、 なな

7

はち

8

きゅう

9

じゅう

10

 

じゅう   いち

11

 

じゅう    

12

 

じゅう   さん

13

 

じゅう   し、 よん

14

 

じゅう   

15

 

じゅう   ろく

16

 

じゅう   しち、 なな

17

 

じゅう   はち

18

 

じゅう   きゅう

19

 

じゅう   じゅう

20

五十

 >ごじゅう

50

 ひゃく

100

せん

1000

 

 

The Japanese borrowed the use of the Chinese zodiac calendar based on the movements of the sun and moon. The chronology of the uses cycles of 60 years, starting in the year 2636 BC. The dates are based on the administration of the ordinal character and zodiac sign.

The following table lists the Ordinal and Zodiac characters that can be found together on Hansatsu. Finding two characters together, one from the Ordinal column on the left and one from the zodiac column on the right, give a year which can be found in the table following this one.

 

Remember, these dates follow a 60-year cycle, so it is important to know the Nengo Period as well.

 

  

Ordinal Characters

Jikan (Trunks/Elements)

10 Sections

Zodiac Characters

Junishi (Twigs/Animals)

12 Sections

 

Kinoe

Elder brother of the wood

Ne

Rat

Kinoto

Younger brother of the wood

Ushi

Ox

Hinoe

Elder brother of the fire

Tora

Tiger

Hinoto

Younger brother of the fire

U

Hare

Tsuchinoe

Elder brother of the earth

Tatsu

Dragon

Tsuchinoto

Younger brother of the earth

Mi

Snake

Kanoe

Elder brother of the metals

Uma

Horse

Kanoto

Younger brother of the metals

Hitsuji

Goat

Mizunoe

Elder brother of the water

Saru

Monkey

Mizunoto

Younger brother of the water

Tori

Cock

 

Inu

Dog

 

I

Boar

 

 

The next table is a list of years that fall on the 60-year cycles of the zodiac periods presented in the table above. Together with the Nengo Era, the year can be obtained. But remember, if you can read a number after the Nengo era, then all you have to do is count!

 

 

Sign - Jikan (Trunks)

Zodiac-Junishi (Twigs)

List of Years

Kanji

kinoe

ne

1624, 1684, 1744, 1804, 1864

 

kinoto

ushi

1625, 1685, 1745, 1805, 1865

 

hinoe

tora

1626, 1686, 1746, 1806, 1866

 

hinoto

u

1627, 1687, 1747, 1807, 1867

 

tsuchinoe

tatsu

1628, 1688, 1748, 1808, 1868

 

tsuchinoto

mi

1629, 1689, 1749, 1809, 1869

 

kanoe

uma

1630, 1690, 1750, 1810, 1870

 

kanoto

hitsuji

1631, 1691, 1751, 1811, 1871

 

mizunoe

saru

1632, 1692, 1752, 1812, 1872

 

mizunoto

tori

1633, 1693, 1753, 1813, 1873

 

kinoe

inu

1634, 1694, 1754, 1814, 1874

 

kinoto

i

1635, 1695, 1755, 1815, 1875

 

hinoe

ne

1636, 1696, 1756, 1816, 1876

 

hinoto

ushi

1637, 1697, 1757, 1817, 1877

 

tsuchinoe

tora

1638, 1698, 1758, 1818, 1878

 

tsuchinoto

u

1639, 1699, 1759, 1819, 1879

 

kanoe

tatsu

1640, 1700, 1760, 1820, 1880

 

kanoto

mi

1641, 1701, 1761, 1821, 1881

 

mizunoe

uma

1642, 1702, 1762, 1822, 1882

 

mizunoto

hitsuji

1643, 1703, 1763, 1823, 1883

 

kinoe

saru

1644, 1704, 1764, 1824, 1884

 

kinoto

tori

1645, 1705, 1765, 1825, 1885

 

hinoe

inu

1646, 1706, 1766, 1826, 1886

 

hinoto

i

1647, 1707, 1767, 1827, 1887

 

tsuchinoe

ne

1648, 1708, 1768, 1828. 1888

 

tsuchinoto

ushi

1649, 1709, 1769, 1829, 1889

 

kanoe

tora

1650, 1710, 1770, 1830, 1890

 

kanoto

u

1651, 1711, 1771, 1831, 1891

 

mizunoe

tatsu

1652, 1712, 1772, 1832, 1892

 

mizunoto

mi

1653, 1713, 1773, 1833, 1893

 

kinoe

uma

1654, 1714, 1774, 1834, 1894

 

kinoto

hitsuji

1655, 1715, 1775, 1835, 1895

 

hinoe

saru

1656, 1716, 1776, 1836, 1896

 

hinoto

tori

1657, 1717, 1777, 1837, 1897

 

tsuchinoe

inu

1658, 1718, 1778, 1838, 1898

 

tsuchinoto

i

1659, 1719, 1779, 1839, 1899

 

kanoe

ne

1600, 1660, 1720, 1780, 1840, 1900

 

kanoto

ushi

1601, 1661, 1721, 1781, 1841, 1901

 

mizunoe

tora

1602, 1662, 1722, 1782, 1842, 1902

 

mizunoto

u

1603, 1663, 1723, 1783, 1843, 1903

 

kinoe

tatsu

1604, 1664, 1724, 1784, 1844, 1904

 

kinoto

mi

1605, 1665, 1725, 1785, 1845, 1905

 

hinoe

uma

1606, 1666, 1726, 1786, 1846, 1906

 

hinoto

hitsuji

1607, 1667, 1727, 1787, 1847, 1907

 

tsuchinoe

saru

1608, 1668, 1728, 1788, 1848, 1908

 

tsuchinoto

tori

1609, 1669, 1729, 1789, 1849, 1909

 

kanoe

inu

1610, 1670, 1730, 1790, 1850, 1910

 

kanoto

i

1611, 1671, 1731, 1791, 1851, 1911

 

mizunoe

ne

1612, 1672, 1732, 1792, 1852, 1912

 

mizunoto

ushi

1613, 1673, 1733, 1793, 1853, 1913

 

kinoe

tora

1614, 1674, 1734, 1794, 1854, 1914

 

kinoto

u

1615, 1675, 1735, 1795, 1855, 1915

 

hinoe

tatsu

1616, 1676, 1736, 1796, 1856, 1916

 

hinoto

mi

1617, 1677, 1737, 1797, 1857, 1917

 

tsuchinoe

uma

1618, 1678, 1738, 1798, 1858, 1918

 

tsuchinoto

hitsuji

1619, 1679, 1739, 1799, 1859, 1919

 

kanoe

saru

1620, 1680, 1740, 1800, 1860, 1920

 

kanoto

tori

1621, 1681, 1741, 1801, 1861, 1921

 

mizunoe

inu

1622, 1682, 1742, 1802, 1862, 1922

 

mizunoto

i

1623, 1683, 1743, 1803, 1863, 1923

 

 

 

 

 

MONETARY UNITS

 

The main unit of currency was the silver one monme corresponds to 3.75 grams of silver with a different relationship to gold coins in different periods. The table gives an indicative breakdown of denominations.

 

1 Monme          = 3.75 grams

1 Hyakume 百目     = 100 Monme 

1 Kin                      = 160 Monme 

1 Kan               = 1000 Monme 

1 Kanme    貫目       = 1000 Monme 

1 Kanmon  貫文   = 1000 Mon 

 

1 Shu                      =  1000-1750 Copper or Iron Cash coins

1 Bu    ( fun  ) =  4 Shu

1 Ryo                      =  4 Bu (up to the year 1870)

1 Sen                      =  10 Rin ( or )

1 Yen   or    =  100 Sen (1870 - )

 

  

 

 

Units of Currency

 Mon and Kanmon are units of Value.

Monme and Kanme are units of weight

 

Gold Coin   Expressed by ‘tale’

1 Ryo = 4 bu

1 Bu = 4 shu

1 Shu

  

Copper Coin        Expressed by ‘tale’

1 mon

1,000 mon = 1 kanme 貫目 = 1 fun 

 

 

 

Silver Coin     Expressed by weight

  1/10 monme = 1 fun

1 monme (3.75 Grams)

1,000 monme = 1 kanmon 貫文

 

Gold

 1 ryo = 60 Silver monme   coins

1 ryo = 4 Copper kanmon 貫文 coins

 

 

  So now that we know how to get the dates, it’s easy, right?

 Nope!

 You have to be able to decipher it on the hansatsu notes, themselves! So now we will explore the ways to try and figure out how to get this information from the notes themselves. Unfortunately, the notes, while they give a general appearance of being similarly formed and printed, they do not all follow the same methodsology for placing the information in the same place. In addition, there are some that have odd or different types of calligraphy, and they are just plain harder to read. Below is a large image for you to see a very basic note with several areas annotated.

 

1

 

 

 The information on this page drew much influence from several articles and publications. Those most noteworthy are:

IBNS Journal 21-3 Translating Han-Satsu by David Atterton

IBNS Journal 20-2 Hansatsu of Fuedal Japan by Toyo Yamato

IBNS Journal 21-1 Attributing Dates on Japanese Hansatsu by Toyo Yamato

IBNS Journal 40-1 Interesting Notes on Hansatsu and Non Hansatsu of Japan by Eddie Prigg

IMES Journal 96-E-25 Yamada Hagaki and the History of Paper Currency in Japan by Morio Seno'o

The British Museum online Hansatsu Collection

 

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