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.
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-
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 depicted on the coin.
The fifth coin in the series features the magnificent Japanese Crested Ibis flying over Sado (Sadogashima)
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 coin 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--
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Mel Wacks is a longtime numismatist, a Fellow of the American Numismatic Society, and a member of the Numismatic Literary Guild. Mel has one the following distinguished Numismatic Literary Guild Awards: Best All-around Portfolio (1999), Best Article in a U.S. Magazine (2000), and was the recipient of the American Numismatic Association's Presidential Award in 2009. He has been Director of Marketing for Panda America on and off since 1982.