Money is power. It is also art, history, and a surprisingly fun and unique souvenir.
For myself, an on-again, off-again collector of Japanese coins, I was frustrated at the lack of places that actually sell coins north of Tokyo. Sure, there are many sellers online but with some items literally worth their weight in gold, you'll want to see things with your own eyes and buy from a reputable seller. Besides, any visit to a coin shop, just like a bookstore, always leads to new discoveries you never knew existed.
The Sendai Global Coin & Stamp (仙台 古銭 切手のグローバル) on the 5th floor of the historic Fujisaki department store is both a memorable experience and an easy first step into coin or stamp collecting. As the only specialty coin and stamp shop in the six prefectures of Tohoku, you would be forgiven if you thought the compact shop only caters to serious collectors and maintains a strict atmosphere. First of all, the shop consists of walk-up counters and not a closed interior like a jewelry store. The professional and friendly Manager Saito and his staff happily welcome first-time visitors. However, do please understand that the limited English means the welcomes will come more in the form of smiles. Still, product prices are clearly labeled and if you know what you are looking for, there shouldn't be much miscommunication at all.
There are a few binders of Japanese and Chinese stamps on display and the shop can order many others for you, but it is the coin collection and smaller bill collection that form the bulk of the store's products. Since I can talk a bit about coins with confidence, that’s what I will focus on in this article.
The coins, as well as most currency notes (bills) are all Japanese. Depending on the time period, old coins could be heavy and large or very tiny and light. Old samurai coins are more like medallions that would be strung together through the hole in the middle to make a kind of bracelet that was carried and not worn. Materials cold be copper, bronze, iron, silver, or gold! I am a big fan of Meiji period coins (1868-1912) since they feature a fierce looking dragon. I read originally there was talk of putting the emperor’s face on the coins, but since putting coins in dark and dirty pockets or bags could be seen as a sign of disrespect, the design changed. All coins and bills tell a story. The design, the material, the size, rarity and even the denominations are not just random choices, but purposefully acts that reveal much about society during the periods they were created. Collectors can see that each coin has much more value than when it was originally produced. Be careful as this hobby can become addictive!
The variety of coins is impressive. Some coins are centuries old. Some costs hundreds of thousands of yen and are easily museum quality. Others are specially minted collectible coins not to be used as legal tender, such as a set of coins with a symbolic picture for each prefecture. Miyagi has Tanabata and Fukui has dinosaurs. Above all for the average traveler, there are bargains! Japanese collectors place a high importance on flawless perfection. That means a bit of discoloration, a scratch, or fading can lead to big savings. There are many coins priced under 1,000 yen. Why not take home a design you like, or one produced the year you or a loved one was born?
The best part of this place is the capsule machine on one end of the counter. Put a 500 yen coin in the machine, turn the handle, and out comes magic. A literal handful of old coins are packed in a little plastic bubble. Most coins are poor quality and worn, but usually the design is still visible and if you are lucky there are some little treasures hiding inside. Some of the coins you can get are over 100 years old! The staff can help identify some of the coins if it is not too busy.
Sendai Global Coin & Stamp is a true gem of the city if looking for a unique souvenir. Even if you don't personally fancy coins, many who end up visiting will quickly become fans. If so, visit the world currency museum at 77 Bank to see even more money made from metal! While I am not personally an expert on coin collecting, given the long history of the shop, number of regular customers, and my half a dozen visits with no issues, I would say prices are very fair and of course there are no counterfeits or fakes. With its easy access and range of prices catering to hobbyist to the high roller collector, I highly recommend putting this shop on your itinerary of Sendai.