The Boy Travelers - Japan and China by Thomas W. Knox The Boy Travelers by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 20: The Mint at Osaka—from Osaka to Nara and Kyoto

Through the assistance of a gentleman to whom Doctor Bronson had a letter of introduction, our friends were enabled to pay a visit to the imperial mint at Osaka.
Vignette From the National Bank-Notes

They found a large establishment, like a foundry, on the bank of the river, and just outside the thickly settled portion of the city. A tall chimney was smoking vigorously, and gave signs of activity, and there was an air of neatness about the surroundings quite in keeping with what they had observed thus far in their journey through Japan. They were met at the entrance by the director of the mint, a Japanese gentleman who had spent a considerable time in Europe and America, and spoke English with fluency and precision. They were invited to seats in the office, and, after a brief delay, were escorted through the establishment.

The mint at Osaka is one of the most noted enterprises which the government of Japan has undertaken, and likewise one of the most successful. When it was founded it was under foreign supervision, and the most of the employees were from Europe, but year by year the Japanese have learned how to conduct its machinery, and have relieved the foreigners of the labor of managing it. The direction is Japanese, and so are the heads of the departments, and the employees from highest to lowest. When the mint was established, the machinery for it was imported from Europe, but at present it is all made by the Japanese, in their own factory attached to the mint.
Imperial Crest for Palace Affairs

"Just to think," said Frank, "that some people persist in calling these Japanese 'barbarians!' Here are machines for stamping coin and performing all the work of a mint, and it bears the mark of the Japanese. Here are delicate balances for weighing gold and silver and getting the weight down to the fraction of a grain, and they are just as sensitive and as well made as the best specimens from the French or German makers. If the Japanese can do all this, and they certainly have done it, they deserve to be considered just as good as any other people in the world."

The Doctor took from his pocket some of the coin which was in circulation, and with which the boys had by this time become thoroughly familiar. They had remarked that it was as neatly made as any coin of Europe or America, and, as a matter of curiosity, they were desirous of seeing the machine by which each of the different pieces was stamped. The director kindly pointed out the various machines, and the boys observed that, with a single exception, they were all of Japanese make. Then they were shown through a factory for the manufacture of sulfuric acid that is attached to the mint, and is run on government account. They were somewhat astonished to learn that all the sulfuric acid used in the mint was made there, and that in the previous year thirteen thousand cases were exported to China. For the benefit of his professor of chemistry, Fred made the following memorandum concerning the branch of business he was investigating:
Imperial Crest on the New Coins

"The Sulfur comes from the provinces of Satsuma and Bungo, the most from the latter, and the best from the former, and the product is partly for the use of the mint, and partly for general commerce. The acid is packed in earthen jars which are glazed on the inside, and not in the carboys that are in use with us. Two jars, holding about eight quarts each, are packed in a wooden case. They rest on a bed of lime about three inches thick, and the remainder of the space is filled with coarse ashes and coal cinders. This manner of packing is considered preferable to the old one, and, besides, it enables the Japanese to make their own jars, instead of importing the carboys. The director tells me that thus far the factory has not been able to supply the Chinese demand for acid, and therefore no shipments have been made to other countries. With an increased production, it is quite possible that shipments may be made to America at no very distant day.

"Japan abounds in Sulfur, and the supply is said to be inexhaustible. The copper used at the mint for making the Japanese small coins is of native production, and so is most of the silver, but occasionally the supply of the latter metal runs short, and then American silver comes into play. Last year nearly half a million trade-dollars were melted at the mint at Osaka, to be made into Japanese yens, and this year a large number have met a similar fate. The American trade-dollar has not yet become a popular coin for circulation in Japan and China, but is in good demand for the melting-pot. But I suppose we do not care what they do with our silver money so long as they pay for it, and the more they melt up, the better we shall be pleased."
Old Kinsat or Money-Card

Having finished their inspection of the mint, our friends thanked the polite director for his kindness and attention, and bade him good day. They returned to the hotel, where their lunch was waiting for them, and sat down on the balcony, where they had feasted and studied the river scenery the day before. Their morning's excursion naturally led them to talk about the money of Japan, and on this subject the Doctor was ready with his usual fund of information.

"The Japanese currency," said Doctor Bronson, "has had a somewhat checkered career. Previous to the coming of the foreigners, the currency consisted of gold, silver, copper, and bronze coins. The Daimyos had money of their own, and some of them had issued paper kinsats, or money-cards. These were on thick paper, like card-board, and they circulated freely, though sometimes at a discount, owing to the difficulty of redemption or the wasteful ways of the prince by whom they were put forth. The old coins were oval or oblong, and the lower denominations had a square hole in the center, so that they could be strung on a wire or on a cord. The gold coins were known as 'kobans,' while the silver ones had the general name of 'boos.' There were fractions of each, and they had their names, just as our half and quarter dollars have their distinctive names. The unit of the silver coin was a 'boo,' and it was always called 'ichiboo,' or one boo. The word ichi means one, but the early visitors supposed it was a part of the name of the coin. Thus we read in books of twenty years ago that the writer paid 'one ichiboo' or 'two ichiboos' for certain purchases. It is the same as if someone writing of America should say that he paid 'one one-dollar' or 'two one-dollars' for what he had bought.

"All that old currency has been set aside," continued the Doctor, "and the country is now in possession of a decimal system of money. The coins are round, and the general stamp on them is the same, apart from the words and figures showing the denomination and value. The unit is the 'yen,' which is equal to our dollar. In fact, the Japanese currency is assimilated to our own in weight, fineness, and decimal divisions. Here is the table of the values:

"10 rin make 1 sen, equal to 1 cent.

100 sen make 1 yen, equal to 1 dollar.

"The coins are stamped with the devices of the coiled dragons and the rising sun (both Japanese symbols), and not with the portrait of the Mikado. Japanese prejudice is opposed to the adoption of the picture of the imperial ruler on the coin of the country, but it will probably be overcome in time. It is less severe than with the Muslims (among whom a true believer is forbidden to make a picture of anything that has life), and consequently will be easier to do away with.
Vignette from Bank-Note

"The Japanese have ventured upon that feature of Western civilization known as a national debt, and how they will get out of it time alone will determine. At present they are increasing their indebtedness every year, and their paper does not show any signs of redemption. They have also, as you have seen, a paper currency like our national issue in America, and so much like ours is it that it is known as the Japanese greenbacks. They have notes of the same denominations as ours, and they also have a fractional currency, such as we had during the war of 1861 and the years that followed. The premium on coin has gone steadily upwards, partly in consequence of the large issue, and partly owing to the hostility of foreign bankers and others, who have done all they could to bring the Japanese credit into discredit."

The dissertation on Japanese money came to an end with the meal they were eating, and soon after the party proceeded to take a stroll through the streets. The afternoon was spent in this way and in letter writing, and on the following morning the trio started for Kyoto, by way of Kara. The ride was a pleasant one, in jinrikshas, partly along the banks of the river, where they saw a goodly number of boats, some descending the stream with the aid of the current, and others making a laborious ascent. The difference of up-stream and down-stream travel was never better illustrated than in the present instance. The Japanese people who floated with the current were taking things easily and smoking their pipes, as though all the world were their debtor. While the men on the towpath were bending to their toil, evidently giving their whole minds to it, and their bodies as well. Some of the towmen had on their grass coats, while others were without them. Every head was carefully protected from the heat of the sun by the broad hats already described.
Mode of Holding the Tow-Ropes

They saw a native ferryboat at one point, which was heavily laden with a mixed cargo. According to Fred's inventory, the craft contained a horse and half a dozen men, together with a lot of boxes and bundles, which were, as the auctioneers say, too numerous to mention. The head of the horse was firmly held by the groom who had him in charge, as it would have been a serious matter if the beast had broken away and jumped into the stream with all his load about him. A Japanese ferryboat does not appear the safest thing in the world, but, somehow, one never hears of accidents with it. If any occur, they must be carefully kept out of the papers.

After riding about three hours through a succession of villages and across fields, they reached a hotel, where John suggested they had better halt for lunch. It was a Japanese inn, without the slightest pretense of adapting itself to foreign ideas. There were the usual fish-stew and boiled rice ready, and with these and their own provisions our travelers made a hearty meal, well-seasoned with that best of sauces, hunger. There was a stout maid-of-all-work, who bustled about in a manner not altogether characteristic of the Japanese. At the suggestion from the Doctor that he would like to bathe his head in some cool water, she hurried away, and soon returned, bearing a bucket so large and so full that she was forced to bend her body far to one side to maintain her equilibrium. Her powerful limbs and general ruddiness of feature were indicative of the very best condition of robust health, and the boys agreed that she would make a most excellent model for an artist who was endeavoring to represent the best types of the Japanese peasantry.
The Ferry-Boat

Nara is about thirty miles from Osaka, and is famous for some ancient temples and fine groves of trees. The park containing the latter is quite extensive, and supports a considerable number of deer, so tame that they will feed from the hand of a stranger. As they are the stock sights of the place, there are plenty of opportunities to spend a few pennies for cakes to be given to the deer. The cakes are sold by some old women, who call the pets from the shelter of the trees, and bring them bounding to your side. The trees in the park are very old, and among the finest in Japan. There are few lovelier spots in the country than this, and as our friends reclined on the veranda of the little hotel to which John had led the way, and looked upon the smiling valley that spread before them, they pronounced the picture one of the prettiest they had ever seen.

The following morning they devoted to the sights of Nara, and were surprised at the number and extent of the temples and tombs. During the eighth century Nara was the capital of Japan, and it had the honor of being the residence of seven different sovereigns. The most famous of its monuments is the statue of Buddha, which was originally cast at the time Nara was the capital, and was afterwards destroyed during an insurrection. It was recast about seven hundred years ago, and has since remained uninjured. Frank applied himself to discovering the dimensions of this statue, and ended by making the following table of figures:

Total height of statue, 53 feet 6 inches; width across shoulders, 29 feet; length of face, 16 feet; width of face, 9 feet 6 inches. It is said to weigh four hundred and fifty tons, and to be made of a bronze composed of gold, mercury, tin, and copper. The head is covered with curls, also of bronze, and there are said to be 966 of them. Then there is a halo around the head 78 feet in diameter, and supporting 16 images, each one 8 feet long. The statue is in a squatting posture, like the one at Kamakura, and is covered with a building so small that it is impossible to obtain a good view in consequence of being too near the figure. The expression of the features is not at all equal to that of the great Dai-Boots at Kamakura, and the whole design is far less artistic. But it is the second in the empire in size, and for that reason is worthy of notice as well as for its antiquity.
A Japanese Landscape

From Nara the party continued to Kyoto, halting for dinner at Uji, which is the center of an important tea district. Men and women were at work in the fields gathering the leaves from the plants, and other men and women were attending to the drying process which the gathered leaves were undergoing. They were spread out on matting, on paper, or on cloth, where they had the full force of the rays of the sun, and were frequently turned and stirred so as to have every part equally exposed to the solar heat. While the party was at Uji a shower came on, and then there was some very lively hurrying to and fro to save the tea from a wetting. During the afternoon the rain continued, and the rest of the ride to Kyoto was not especially cheerful. Part of the route led along the banks of the river, which forms a navigable way for small boats between the tea district and Osaka, and at one place, where the bank was broken, Frank had a narrow escape from an overturn into the water. The wheel of his little carriage sank into the soft earth and spilled him out, but, luckily, a friendly tree was in his grasp and saved him from falling down the steep slope of twenty feet or so. "A miss is as good as a mile," he remarked, as he brushed the mud from his clothes, and took his seat again in his vehicle.

"And I know a miss," said Fred, "that is better than any mile we have had today."

Frank asked what he meant, and was told—

"Miss Effie."

He quite agreed with Fred, and said he would gladly exchange that last mile, overturn and all, for one minute of her society. But he had the consolation of knowing he could have her society for a good many consecutive minutes when he got home again, and could keep as long as he liked the recollection of the miles between Nara and Kyoto.
Dikes Along the River

They left the river at Fushimi, and followed what seemed to be an almost continuous street for six miles or more. Formerly the great route for travelers and commerce between Osaka and Kyoto was by way of the river as far as Fushimi, and thence by the road. The result of this state of affairs for centuries was to build up a long village largely composed of hotels and teahouses. Their business has somewhat fallen off since the completion of the railway from Kyoto to Osaka and Kobe, but there is still enough to maintain a considerable number of them. There is one large hotel, at the foot of the Inari hill, about two miles from the center of Kyoto, where the jinriksha servants invariably stop for a short rest, and to take tea at the expense of their employers. The custom was carefully observed in the present instance, and our friends were shown to the rear of the hotel, where there was a pretty garden with a little fountain supplied from the hill above. They sipped their tea, and gave side-glances at the black-eyed maids that were moving around the house, and when John announced that the laborers were rested, the journey was resumed.

They passed by several temples, and, after a time, their way led through some narrow streets and up a gently sloping hill. Suddenly they halted and were told that they had reached their stopping place. There are several hotels at Kyoto in the foreign style, but all kept and managed by Japanese. John declared that the one to which he had brought them was the best, but he added, in a quiet whisper, that it was not so good as the hotels at Kobe and Yokohama. After a day's experience of the establishment, Frank suggested that he could make an improvement in John's English.

Fred asked what he had to propose.

"Why," said Frank, "he spoke of this hotel as the best in the place. Best implies goodness somewhere, and I don't find any goodness in it."

"But, for all that," Fred responded, "the others may be worse than this."
Night Scene Near Fushimi

"Quite true," was the answer, "and then let him say so. Instead of calling this the best hotel in Kyoto, he should say that it is the least bad. Then he would be making a proper use of language."

Fred retorted that Frank was demanding too much of a boy to whom they only paid fifty cents a day, and his expenses, and said he was reminded of the excuse of a soldier who was being censured for drunkenness.

"What was that?" queried Frank.

"His captain asked him what he had to say for himself to escape punishment, and the man replied that it was unreasonable to expect all the cardinal virtues for thirteen dollars a month. The captain told him the excuse was sufficient for that time, but would not do for a repetition of the offense."

They had not been five minutes in the hotel before they were visited by a delegation of peddlers, who had all sorts of wares to offer. Among them were some beautiful embroideries on silk, of a kind they had not seen in Tokyo or Yokohama, and there were some exquisite paintings that gave practical evidence of the superiority of the artists of Kyoto. The dealers were not at all importunate, and did not seem to care whether the strangers purchased their wares or declined all negotiations. Two or three of them had brought photographs of the scenery around Kyoto which they offered to leave for inspection until the next day. This proposal was received with favor, and on a hint that the travelers were tired and wished to be by themselves, each of the itinerant merchants retired, but not until after bowing low and pronouncing a respectful "Sayonara."

Two of the hotels which the foreigners patronize are close to some of the famous temples of Kyoto, and thus the process of sightseeing is greatly facilitated. A third hotel is a considerable distance up the hillside, and commands a fine view over nearly all the city. The ascent to it is somewhat fatiguing, but the visitor is well paid for the exertion by the remarkable and charming landscape that spreads before his eyes.

    The Boy Travelers - Japan and China by Thomas W. Knox The Boy Travelers by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 20: The Mint at Osaka—from Osaka to Nara and Kyoto


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the chapter.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Mint: A building or institution where money (originally, only coins) is produced under government license.
Foundry: A facility that melts metals in special furnaces and pours the molten metal into molds to make products.
currency: Money.
Coin: A piece of currency, usually metallic and in the shape of a disc.
Sulfuric Acid: A transparent, oily liquid, formula H2SO4, that is a strong acid with very many industrial applications.
Sulfur: A yellowish green chemical element (symbol S) with an atomic number of 16.
Copper: A reddish-brown, malleable, ductile metallic element with high electrical and thermal conductivity, symbol Cu, and atomic number 29.
Yen: The unit of Japanese currency.
Silver: A lustrous, white, metallic element with an atomic number of 47.
Bronze: A naturally occurring or man-made alloy (combination of metals) of copper, usually in combination with tin.
Banknote: Paper currency printed by a central bank.


Activity 1: Narrate the Chapter

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Chapter Pictures

  • Study the chapter pictures and describe how each relates to the story.

Activity 3: Observe the Modern Equivalent

  • Examine the chapter setting in modern times: A temple in city of Nara, Japan.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

  • Find the country of Japan on the map of the world.
  • Trace the path taken from Osaka to Kyoto on the map of Japan.

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

  • Repeat the mapwork from Activity 4 on a three-dimensional globe.