The popularity of the United States' series of 50 State Quarters, issued from 1999 through 2008, probably inspired Japan to launch its most ambitious series of commemorative coins in 2008 – commemorating the 47 Prefectures-and the series will run through 2016. But while the State Quarters were issued in un-circulated condition, made from copper-nickel and issued by the millions, the large Prefecture 40mm. coins are being mined in gem proof quality from 99.9% pure silver, limited to 100,000 of each-and they picture local scenery, flora and fauna, etc. in full color.
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 cave more political power to prefectures, and installed prefectural governors and parliaments.
The Prefecture Coin Program was launched with a coin commemorating Hokkaido, the largest prefecture of Japan, an island located off the coast of the northernmost part of the country. It features Red-crowned cranes flying over Lake Toya, a volcanic lake found in Shikotsu-Toya National Park. The reverse design-common to the entire prefecture series-features snow crystals, a crescent moon and cherry blossoms.
The second prefecture coin honors Kyoto. Located in the middle of the country, for most of its history Kyoto was known as the Imperial Capitol of Japan. Although the capitol of Japan has been changed to Tokyo, Kyoto remains Japan's cultural capitol. The Kyoto coin features designs and images that are specific to that prefecture. As such, the Kyoto coin features a scene from "The Picture Scroll of the Tale of Genji" (National Treasure of Japan).
Next is the Shimane prefecture coin, in the Prefecture series, that should be of special interest to numismatists since it features a 16th century silver coin-called "Otoriosame-Chogin" -minted from ore derived from the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine, located in Oda City in the center of Shimane, that operated from 1526 through 1923. In addition, the official flower of the prefecture-peonies – are pictured in full color.
Prefecture Coin number four features Nagano, famous as the site for the 1998 Winter Olympics. Nagano is surrounded by mountains which stand 3,000 meters above the sea level, called the Japan Alps, which are dated on the coin.
The fifth coin in the series features the magnificent Japanese Crested Ibis flying over Sado (Sadogashima) Island in the prefecture of Niigata. This is a sight that was almost lost forever near the end of the last century. In 1952, the species was designated a Special Natural Monument, and in 1960 it was listed as an internationally protected species-but the local population died off. Fortunately in 1981, a Chinese researcher discovered seven wild Crested Ibises in Shaanxi Province, China. The protected Chinese population began to increase, and in 1990, 25 ibis chicks were captured and placed in a protection and rearing center. Sometimes they are began to produce young, and within a decade there were more than 130 Crested Ibises in captivity. So, the Japanese Crested Ibis appears to be on the road to recovery, with the total population of wild and captive birds currently greater than 600. The program aims to reintroduce 60 ibises to Japan by 2015. There are currently 10 free-flying on Sado Island, five males and five females, all fitted with GPS tracking devices.
Nara is featured on the sixth Prefecture coin. Nara was the ancient capital of Japan, even older than Kyoto. The coin pictures the ancient ball game of "Kemari" being played before the Former Imperial Audience Hall at Heijo Palace in the Heijo-kyo Capital, that is celebrating its 1300th Anniversary in 2010. It has been preserved as a national historic site and a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site-and is now being reconstructed.
The seventh Prefecture coins commemorates Ibaraki – a center of science and technology – located close to Tokyo. The design appropriately features the H-II Launch Vehicle, the first rocket produced in Japan using only domestic technologies – developed at the National Space Development Agency of Japan in this prefecture. In the background is Mt. Tsukuba, that is accredited for its graceful shape and is often compared with Mt. Fuji.
The official American distributor of Japan's Prefecture coins is Panda America, http://www.PandaAmerica.com or call 800-472-6327.