The Australian Numismatic Society


47 Prefectures of Japan

By:  John Veltmeyer

Japan’s current prefecture system was established by the Meiji government in July 1871. Although there were initially over 300 prefectures, this number was reduced to 72 in the latter part of 1871, and 47 in 1888. The local autonomy law of 1947 gave more political power to prefectures, and installed prefectural governors and parliaments.

To mark the 60
th Anniversary of the Enforcement of the Local Autonomy Law, Japan launched the “Japan 47 Prefecture coin Program” in 2008. In this program they will have issued Silver Coins and Bi-colour clad coins of 47 prefectures in Japan over a period of several years. The obverse is each prefectures own design with a standard reverse design.

The reverse is common to all the bi-metal coins in this series and features a replica of a Japanese Yen coin, with the following inscription around the outside “Japan 47 Prefectures Coin Program 500 Yen”

Note the “20” in the lower right quadrant of the coin – this represents the date of minting the coin. The date is in the Japanese format and is written with the name of the reigning emperor followed by the years of his reign and the kanji character for “year”.

In the pictured example, Emperor Akihito is the reigning emperor; and the 20 is the number of years of his reign when the coin was issued – 08-01-1989 to when the coin was issued in 2008. However, the first year of each era is always referred to as GANNEN, meaning the first year of the era. For example, the first year of Akihito is called Akihito Gannen instead of Akihito 1. The year number 1 is never used to indicate the first year of an era.

According to Japanese legend, Emperor Akihito, is Japan’s 125th imperial sovereign in an unbroken line from emperor Jimmu, who ascended the throne in about 660BC. Japan has the world’s oldest existing hereditary monarchy.

Each coin is presented in an official Japan Mint Display Card. 


okkaido is the first prefecture to be honoured in this series.

Hokkaido is Japan’s second largest island and the northern most of the prefectures.

The name Hokkaido literally means “North Sea Circuit” and the island has gone by the names of Ezo, Yezo, Yeso or Yesso in the past.

The island is thought to have been inhabited as far as twenty thousand years ago and has been mentioned in Japans’ second oldest book of historical reference, the Nihon Shoki (the Chronicles of Japan)

Featured on the obverse is a depiction of the former Hokkaido government office building located in the capital city of Sapporo with a background made up of Lake Toya and mountains and a foreground of foliage.

The prefecture name is also on this side in both English and Japanese characters.


Kyoto, the second prefecture to be honoured in the series.

The Kyoto prefecture is located on the island of Honshu in the Kinki region of Japan.

It is found near the middle of Japan and is separated by a mountain range producing different climates in the north and south.

The city of Kyoto was once the imperial capital of Japan and was known to have been established as early as the 6th century.

The Kyoto prefecture is the 31st in size in Japan.

The obverse design of this bi-metal coin features a re-creation of a scene from the famous Japanese picture scroll of “The Tale of Genji”, now located in the National Museum of Japan. The image, from scene 2 of chapter 49, shows a man and a woman in traditional Japanese attire.

The coin itself was issued also to honour the millennial anniversary of the picture scroll.


A unique, intriguing type, the third issue in the Japan Mint’s prefecture 500 yen bi-metal series honours the Simane prefecture.

The Shimane prefecture is located on the island of Honshu in the Chigoku region of Japan and has a history dating back to Shinto mythology.

It is the second least populous prefecture in Japan with just under 800,000 residents.

The obverse of the coin is graced with a detailed design which depicts an official Japanese archaeological treasure (a ritual bronze bell-shaped vessel, inscribed with patterns and pictograms, from the Yayoi period 500BC-300AD) found at the Kamo Iwakura site in Shimane’s Unnan City in 1996. Around the central image of the bell-shaped vessel on the coin are reproductions of the pictograms.


The sixth prefecture to be honoured in the series, Ibaraki, is located in the northern part of the Kanto region close to Tokyo. It is known as a centre of science and technology in Japan, as well as being where the martial art, Aikido was started by Ueshiba Morihei.

On the obverse is an image of Kairakuen Garden and a Plum Tree (also known as the Japanese Apricot tree). “Kairikuen Garden” is located in Mito city in Ibraki prefecture and is known as one of the three famous traditional gardens in Japan. It was created in 1842 and is famous for plum blossom viewing.


Gifu is the 9th prefecture to be honoured in the series.

Gifu is located in the Chubu region of central Japan. It has long played an important part as the crossraods of Japan, connecting the east to the west through such routes as the Nakasendō. During the Sengoku period, many people referred to Gifu by saying, "control Gifu and you control Japan."

Featured on the obverse is an image showing the historic village of Shirakawago (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and astragalus flowers (Gifu’s prefectural flower). The traditional style of these houses is adapted to the natural environment in Shirakawa, which is often hit by heavy snowfalls in Winter.


The 11th prefecture to be honoured in the series is Aichi.

Aichi is located in the Tokai region of the Chūbu region and was originally known as Nagoya Prefecture. Aichi was divided into the three provinces of Owari, Mikawa and Ho. It was renamed to Aichi Prefecture in April 1872.

The Expo 2005 World Exposition was held in the Aichi Prefecture.

The obverse design features images of the Main Building of the Aichi Prefectural Government, together with a Rabbit-ear Iris. The Main Building of the Aichi Prefectural Government is famous for its mixed style of western architecture and the eastern castled roof.


The 12
th prefecture to be honoured in the series is the Aomori Prefecture.
The Aomori Prefecture came into existence in 1871, with the town of Aomori being established in 1889. The town became a city in 1898 with a population of 28,000 - the city now has a population of over 300,000. Aomori Prefecture is the northernmost prefecture on Honshū and faces Hokkaidō across the Tsugaru Strait. It borders Akita and Iwate in the south. Oma, a town with a population of 5,950, at the northwestern tip of the axe-shaped Shimokita Peninsula, is the northernmost point of Honshū.

Featuring the restored model of an ancient building of Sannai-Maruyama Site of the Jomon Period (c.5,500-4,000 years ago) as well as the "goggle-eyed type" clay figurine from Kamegaoka Site of the Final Jomon Period (c.3,000- 2,300 years ago) and the "praying-hands type" clay figurine from Kazahari 1 site of the late Jomon Period (c.3,500-3,000 years ago).


Saga is the 13
th prefecture to be celebrated in the 47 Prefectures of Japan coin series.

Saga Prefecture is located in the northwest part of the island of Kyūshū, Japan.

It touches both the Sea of Japan and the Ariake Sea. The western part of the prefecture is a region famous for producing ceramics and porcelain, particularly the towns of Karatsu, Imari, and Arita. The capital is the city of Saga.

The obverse design shows Okuma Shigenobu who was a very active politician and educator from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, and he actually became the 8th and 17th prime minister. It is said that he was also involved in the introduction of the Japanese currency unit "Yen". Furthermore, he contributed to introduce Saga's traditional crafts such as Imari-Arita Ware, Saga Nishiki (a classic hand-woven fabric) and Kashima Nishiki to the overseas market.


The 14th prefecture to be honored in the series, Toyama.

Toyama is a prefecture of Japan located in the Hokuriku region on Honshū island. The capital is the city of Toyama. Toyama is the leading industrial prefecture on the Japan Sea coast, and has the industrial advantage of cheap electricity due to abundant water resources.

Owara Kaze-no-bon Festival, a traditional local festival is held in Toyama Prefecture every September and is pictured on the obverse of the coin.

Participants in the festival wish for moderate winds and a good harvest in autumn. Male and female dancers performing different styles of dancing, wear woven hats low over their eyes and dance to local folk songs in the midst of rows of thousands of paper lanterns.


The 15th prefecture to be honoured in the series is Tottori.

Tottori Prefecture is located in the Chūgoku region. The capital is the city of Tottori. It is the least populous prefecture in Japan. The word "Tottori" originates from the characters meaning "bird" () and "to get" (), as early residents in the area made their living catching the region's plentiful waterfowl.

Shown on the obverse is Mitokusan Sanbutsuji Temple Nageiredo Hall. It is a unique architectural work, built on the cliffside around the late eleventh century, and is designated as a national treasure.


The 16th prefecture to be honoured in the series, Kumamoto.

Kumamoto is a prefecture of Japan located on Kyushu Island. The capital is the city of Kumamoto. Historically the area was called Higo Province; and the province was renamed Kumamoto during the Meiji Restoration. The creation of prefectures was part of the abolition of the feudal system. The current Japanese orthography for Kumamoto literally means "bear root/origin", or "origin of the bear".

Featured on the obverse is an image of Kumamoto Castle, built in 1607. The castle is famous for its stone wall featuring a graceful curved line. The stone wall becomes steeper as it ascends in order to stop enemies from entering.

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1st August 2012