By Laura Welch
Money is power. It is also art, history, and a surprisingly fun and unique souvenir.
For myself, an occasional collector of Japanese coins, I was frustrated at the lack of places that actually sell coins north of Tokyo. Much more common are advertisements on the street for pawn shops that buy old coins, though they never seem to sell them at the shops. Online buying is always a possibility, but you will not be able to inspect the coin and you miss out on the experience of discovering something new. Furthermore, I am not a serious collector, so the cheap stuff is still great for me. One day in my new home Sendai, Miyagi prefecture I found the mother load.
The Global Stamp & Coin shop on the 5th floor of the historic Fujisaki Department Store is both a memorable experience and crash course in coin or stamp collecting. In fact this is the only specialty coin shop in Sendai, so thankfully it is located right in the heart of downtown in the center of the shopping arcades. Mr. Saito and the shop staff can answer all your questions and welcome customers who just want to browse the beautiful display. The shop is a counter and not a store with an entrance way, so it feels very easy to come and go at will.
The coins, as well as some bank notes 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. The stamp binders focus on older Chinese and Japanese stamps, as well as some more modern collectible Japanese ones. Coin files, catalogs, and hobby accessories are also for sale here-though in Japanese. 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 no counterfeits.
An interesting thing happens in Japan with coin collecting. More so than even other world coin collectors, the quality must be perfect for a true collector in Japan. Any sign of aging, coloring, or scratches will reduce the value dramatically. This is great news for the hobby collector or when considering an inexpensive gift. For example, I bought a 1964 Tokyo Olympics 100 yen coin for about 350 yen because it was slightly scratched I was told (but it was so small I could not notice where). The regular price of a perfect condition is 3-4 times that; however I bought this before the 2020 Olympics were announced, so I may have an investment piece going up in value now!
The best part of this place is the capsule machine. 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 most of the time the design is still visible and if you are lucky there are some good ones hiding in there. Some of the coins you can get are over 100 years old! I am a big fan of Meiji era coins which are brown with dragon designs. I got them all from this machine. The staff can help identify some of the coins you get if it is not busy.
The Global Stamp & Coin shop is a true gem of the city. Even if you don't personally fancy coins, many who end up visiting quickly become fans. Easy access, price-range, and fun outing. Highly recommended.
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Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is a long-term resident and promoter in the Tohoku region. He has been a content producer for JapanTravel.com since 2012 and was the Miyagi Prefecture Regional Partner 2013-2015. Justin’s over 300 published travel and culture articles come from a background of studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and working for the government in Fukushima. He lives in the gyutan capital of the world, Sendai. Justin is an expert in local culture and history. He was the first foreign volunteer at Sendai City Museum and regularly advises the local volunteer guide group GOZAIN , which he is a veteran member, on guiding techniques and hidden locations in the city even locals don't know about. In his free time he enjoys delivering original walking tours, such as his Dark Sendai Tour (ghost tour) or Kokubuncho Mystery Tour (redlight district tour). Justin is also a Certified Sake Professional.