The first government-minted coins to succeed in this way were the coins minted in the Kanei era (1624_1644). The Kanei coins were minted during the five-year period from 1636 to 1640 and, to ensure their diffusion, the export of copper was prohibited until 1645. Subsequently, according to the autobiography of the scholar and statesman Arai Hakuseki (1657_1725), 500,000 kan were minted in the four years from 1656 to 1659 and 1,970,000 kan were minted during the 16-year period from 1668 to 1683. Through the Kanei currency, Japan eventually managed to eliminate the domestic use of imported currency. This operation took almost a whole century to complete, which clearly shows the strength of the will of the shogunate to ensure its success. Imported coins were thus completely supplanted by government-minted currency in Japan. The success of the replacement of imported Chinese currency suggested the possibility of the use of Japanese copper coins in the Asian region, where Chinese currency was used. Japan had always had the capacity to export not only copper coins but all of the materials it used for money in the Edo period. While the countries of Europe possessed large amounts of gold and silver that they had all but plundered from the New World, Japan also had a vast domestic supply of materials for currency through its development of mining in the Sengoku period. And while the Europeans took to Asia about one third of the precious metals they acquired in America, Japan_s _annual silver exports alone at that time (the beginning of the seventeenth century) accounted for 30 or 40 percent of the total amount produced throughout the world. (Iwao Seiichi, Sakoku [National Isolation], Chuokoronsha, 1970.) According to Arai Hakuseki_s Honch h a ts__jiryaku (Record of circulation of Japan_s legal tender), the total amount of gold and silver flowing overseas from Nagasaki during the 61 years from 1648 to 1708 was _more than 2,397,600 ry_of gold and over 374,209 kamme of silver,_ while copper exports during the 46 years from 1663 to 1708 _amounted to over 114,498,700 kin.
Among gold, silver and copper currency, copper coins, especially the Kanei coins, were particularly significant because Chinese copper coins served as international currency in Asia. They had been used in the east not only in Japan but also in Korea and Ryukyu, in Java and Vietnam in the south, in the kingdom of Islam in the west, and in the northern regions of Xi Xia and Chin. Japan_s development of the capacity to supply copper coins was therefore an epoch-making occurrence in the Asian economic bloc. The impact on China merits particular attention. Because China had had a monopoly on the supply of copper coins to East Asia, the fact that Ming and Ch_ing (Manchu) China imported Japanese copper is liable to be overlooked. However, China_s copper self-sufficiency became uncertain during the Ming dynasty, and the mint of the Ming regime came to rely increasingly on _foreign copper,_ as Japanese copper was called in China. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, _foreign copper_ became one of China_s main imports and from the seventeenth century it was its chief import. In the next section we will consider the impact this had on China.
China_s Achilles Heel_The Shortage of Copper
Ch_ing China was revered by the Western powers as a sleeping lion. But China had an Achilles heel: the shortage of materials for minting money. In 1644, the Ch_ing government set up a central mint in Beijing, but due to serious copper shortages local mints were closed and in 1673 the use of copper products was prohibited. The mint ordered the purchase of copper scrap but, as a result of the copper shortage, the value of copper in terms of silver rose from 1000 to 700 mon per ry_of silver. The proposals made to the Chinese government during this period show that the copper shortage was causing trouble to both government and citizens. They include suggestions that the copper content of money should be decreased and the claim that the root of China_s economic problems was that it could not import copper from Japan.
To resolve this problem, China strengthened its control of trade and relocated the main region used for trade with Japan from Fujian, which was under the control of the Zheng clan, to the vicinity of the Chang Jiang river, where government-controlled facilities had been established.