Tokyo Money Trail - Part I of III

Whenever I get the chance to visit another country, I will as a numismatist try to visit some of the interesting sites related to this subject area. The last time I was in Japan was exactly 2 years ago, visiting Osaka and the Osaka Mint. So my visit to the biggest city in Japan is no exception. There are three places you can visit to whet your appetite for numismatic knowledge, and the BEST part if that entry is FREE OF CHARGE. They are :

1. National Printing Bureau's (NBP) Printing Facility
2. NBP's Banknote and Stamps Museum
3. Currency Museum of the Bank of Japan

I will cover these visits in 3 separate parts in my blog, starting with the National Printing Bureau's (NBP) banknote printing factory in Nishihagara district of Tokyo.

The National Printing Bureau is the security printing arm of the Bank of Japan and it is responsible for the design and printing of  Japan's banknotes, stamps and passports. It currently operates 4 separate printing facilities in Tokyo, Odawara, Shizuoka and Hikone. Each of them do offer their own guided tours and information on the tours can be found at their website here :

Keep in mind that this is a HIGH SECURITY FACILITY. You cannot just walk in as and when you like. You will need to PRE-REGISTER for the tour up to 2 or 3 MONTHS BEFORE YOU ARRIVE. These tours are quite popular and there is a limit to the number of persons allowed in, so I recommend that you register as soon as the dates open up. And if you are a foreigner (i.e. if you are NOT a Japanese citizen), you will be asked for some ID - which in this case, you need to show them your PASSPORT. Do please bring it along with you, else you may not be allowed to enter. You can find the online registration form here.

The NBP offers a guided tour of the banknote printing facilities and there are 4 tours in a week, 2 on Tuesdays and 2 on Thursdays, 10:00am and 1:40pm respectively.  The tour lasts for about 1.5 hours.

The bad news is that the tours are conducted entirely in Japanese. BUT if you are lucky enough like me, you may get a tour guide who speaks some English.

The Tokyo plant is located near the Nishihagara Metro train station (Namboku line). It is about 25 to 30 minute ride from Tokyo Station. The main entrance to the facility is right next to Nishigahara Station exit. If you are coming from Kami-Nazakato Station, you expect a 20 minute walk around the huge facility to get to the entrance, which I found out the hard way!

Map 1 : Location of the NBP Printing Facility in relation to downtown Tokyo - less than 10km away, 30 mins by train.

Map 2 : Take the train to Nishigahara Station, it is next to the factory

On the day of the tour you will be required to present you form and show your ID at the front gate. They will then lead you to a briefing room and you will given a locker key and deposit all your bag and mobile phone/camera or any recording device before the plant tour. You are NOT ALLOWED to take photos or video on the plant tour. We walk onto a balcony with glass windows on one side that was opaque when we walked in and the tour leader gave the order to "open" the window, the window magically became transparent and we could see all the action on the factory floor at the time. There were guys moving around preparing large sheets of paper ready to be fed into the printing machines that are about 100 feet in length. The tour will be followed by a visit to their exhibition center, which you can take photos there.

For collectors and numismatist one of the important "mysteries" is that why we cannot find any replacement notes in Japan. In Malaysia, replacement notes are typically those banknotes with a first letter "Z" in their prefix. These are notes that replace the damaged or erroneous ones during the printing process. But for Japan, there are no such thing as Z notes!

So I took the opportunity to ask the question on how does NBP handle error notes in the printing process? It seems that their policy is to reprint the note with the same serial number and slot them into the stack! If there are more than certain number of notes in the stack that are erroneous, the whole stack is reprinted.

Which come to think of it, is not surprising. This is Japan we're talking about, these guys are the pioneer of high quality manufacturing concepts like TQM or Total Quality Management! Their culture taking great pride in their work and their attention to details are legendary. These guys are the ones who gave the world Toyota cars back in the days when car breakdowns are a everyday occurrence.

Another way of looking at the issue is that the process may very well have been designed to PREVENT ERRORS in the first place, because the cost of reprint is high and should be avoided as much as possible. If the rate of error is low, the total cost of production can be kept low, it all depends on the rate of errors.

Technically speaking there are "replacement notes" it is just that you can't tell if it has been replaced or not because it has the same serial number of the damaged or erroneous ones. But that it not to say there are no damaged or erroneous notes in Japan - there is no 100% perfect manufacturing process in this world and I did see some at the coin show when I was there but my impression is that they are quite rare given the stringent quality controls at the NBP.

One thing you will notice is that the watermark on the Japanese Yen is that they are exceptionally fine in detail. The lines are very intricate and the resolution of the image is superb. Below is the comparison between the 1,000 Yen with Malaysia's 100 Ringgit :

Comparison of Watermarks

This is my first time touring a banknote printing facility and it was a real eye opener. Save for 3 major areas, the Japanese banknote printing in principle is quite similar to the rest of the world, at least at the high level. Whilst they did go thru the printing process, a lot of the finer, technical details are intentionally left out for obvious reasons.  The best part of this whole visit - is that it is FREE OF CHARGE and their staff exceptionally friendly and helpful. 

While the tour management team do not speak English at all, they were extremely polite, considerate and completely helpful. Three of us (including my wife and daughter) were the only foreigners in the tour of about 40 persons. And I could tell that they struggle to make us feel comfortable and ensuring we are well taken care of despite the language differences. They even had a colleague from another department who speaks English to help us understand what was going on! For that we are extremely grateful and will always remember NBP for their hospitality.

The rest of this blog contain the photos of my visit. Enjoy!

Below is the photo of some of the souvenirs I picked up at NBP :

1. Folder with NBP logo
2. Guide to the NBP Printing Facility
3. Rubber stamped high quality paper
4. Pamphlet about the current circulating banknotes of Japan
5. Intaglio printed cards (purchased)

Next we visit the NBP's Banknote & Stamps Museum which is located one train stop away from this facility.


Fig 1. Main gate of NBP facility with the Nishigahara Station exit right next to it.

Fig 5. The paper for the banknotes are made from local plants and not from cotton paper like that of other countries. 

Fig 6. The Japanese banknotes paper are made from Mitsumata and Abaca plants that are said to be more resistant to wear and tear
Fig 7. Paper making process

Fig 8. Ink making process, a closely guarded secret. Note the texture of the ink is very thick / viscous.

Fig 9. Types of ink and color used for the printing
Fig 10. Next is the plate making process. This is the master plate and the engraver's tools

Fig 11. The master plate is used to create the printing plate with multiple copies of the note.
For Japan's case it is 4x5 configuration

Fig 12. The printing plate in 4x5 configuration

Fig 13. The printing process, these are huge machines of up to 100 feet in length and able to exert 3 tons
of pressure for the intaglio printing.

Fig 13. Partially printed banknotes

Fig 14. These are the holographic "stickers" for the banknotes

Fig 15. Finally the serial number is printed and this is the completed sheet

Fig 16. A close up of the completed sheet

Fig 17. Sorting an cutting the sheets into bricks and stacks
Fig 18. Wrapping and labeling

Fig 19. Wrapping in blocks after cutting

Fig 20. First of a series of charts on the history of NBP. That guy on the top right is Edoardo Chiossone,
an Italian design for the first series of banknotes in Japan back in 1868, at the height of the Meiji Restoration

Fig. 21. Pens with shredded banknotes at the souvenir shop

Fig 22. Banknote towels?

Fig 23. They even have sweets and cookies for sale! 

>>> NEXT : Tokyo Money Trail : Part II or III

Bank Negara Seminar on Numismatic Grading [ 20 May 2017 ]

Fig. 1 : Sasana Kijang, BNM  Kuala Lumpur
Back in mid April 2017, I was contacted by an official from Bank Negara Malaysia (the Malaysian Central Bank). The call was from none other than the curator of the Numismatic Museum of Bank Negara himself, inviting me to conduct a seminar on numismatic grading. Of course I agreed to do it without any hesitation whatsoever! Mainly because it is indeed an honor and privilege to receive such an invitation from the best numismatic museum in the country! 

The event was scheduled for 20 May 2017, 2:30 p.m. at the auditorium at Sasana Kijang, Kuala Lumpur and the duration is expected to be 2 hours. With about 6 weeks to go I immediately set about preparing the content of the seminar.

For a start - why talk about numismatic grading and not any other topics? For most people numismatic grading equals to graded coins or banknotes stored in slabs of plastic with the grading company logo and a number between 1 to 70 indicating the grade. But grading is much more than just a number, it is a important aspect in determining the value of the collectible that every collector and numismatist must learn and understand. Failure to do so will increase the risk of overpaying for something, especially when acquiring ungraded / "unslabbed" items.

Fig 2. Opening slide for the seminar

The main objective of the seminar was to provide a high level view of the numismatic grading and its origins, while trying to keep the technical aspects of it at a minimum - which many perceive to be difficult to learn. It is hoped that attendees will come away from the seminar being able to make sense of grading and what it means to the collector.

Fig 3 : Grading a coin ....

Fig 4 : Relationship between grade and value

Fig. 5 : BNM's invitation letter & momento.

Asia School of Business (ASB) Commemorative silver coin 2016 - Obverse
Fig. 6 : The very "rare" Asia School of Business commemorative silver coin
(Although not officially stated I have been told that there are only 100 minted)

Asia School of Business (ASB) Commemorative silver coin 2016 - Reverse
Fig. 7 : The reverse of the commemorative coin
With a total of 126 presentation slides, packed with vital information, the seminar did generate some interest in grading, resulting in a question and answer session which lasted more than 1 hour. We wish to record our thanks and appreciation to Bank Negara Malaysia Numismatic Museum for organizing such an event that promote the hobby of numismatics. It is indeed a honour to be amongst the select few who has been invited to speak at the MAG Theatre of Sasana Kijang.

Fig 10: Technical specifications for the Asia School of Business (ASB) Commemorative silver coin 2016.
Fig. 9: Technical specifications for the Asia School of Business (ASB) Commemorative silver coin 2016.

Fig 8. Logo of ASB. Source :

To top off this honour, I was presented with a momento from BNM as a token of appreciation - and much to my surprise it turned out to be the much sought after "Asia School of Business" commemorative silver coin. This coin was never issued to the public, which makes it difficult to obtain for the average collector. While not officially stated, I have been told that only 100 of these coins were minted. It was released on 23rd February 2016 to coincide with the ground breaking ceremony for the new campus building that was officiated by our then BNM Governor Tan Sri Dr. Zeti Akhtar Aziz. The Asia School of Business is a collaboration between BNM and MIT Sloan School of Business, one of the top business schools in the United States.

The Asia School of Business offers Master in Business Administration (MBA) courses here in Kuala Lumpur - being one of the top schools in the world, its fee is certainlynot cheap! This world class 20 month full time course will set you back by RM265,000 for Malaysian students and RM365,000 (USD85,000) for international students.

The official press release from BNM for the ground breaking event can be found here.

And of course it does not end here, we are planning for more seminars in the near future. The new seminars will be announced via our Facebook page at

In the meantime, HAPPY COLLECTING !!!

First Malaysian Book to Win the IBNS Book of the Year

The September copy of the International Banknote Society Journal was just released yesterday, 20 September 2017. 

I have been eagerly awaiting the official announcement of the winner and indeed, Mr. Saran Singh's book won the prestigious IBNS Book of the Year Award! 

The award was first given out as far back as 1979. Recent winner include "Banknotes of British Malaya: The Frank Goon Collection by Frank Goon" published in 2011, by Spink & Son, UK. 

For the 2016 submission, there were 20 books in the running, from various countries such as USA, the UK, Uruguay, Argentina to name a few. "The Encyclopaedia of Dry Rubber Export Coupons : Malaya, Ceylon & Netherlands East Indies 1922-1942" was the ONLY submission from Asia / Malaysia.

This is the FIRST time a Malaysian numismatic has won the IBNS award !!! 

Error Note with Missing numbers? Think again !

The world of numismatics is never boring, in my opinion that is.

This piece that just came in for "an inspection" made my day. This is an 11th series Malaysian banknote of 10 Ringgit issued in the year 2000 duly signed by our governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz.

At first glance it definitely looks like a genuine error note with 4 missing digits on the reverse right corner. The serial  number format for these notes is a 2 letter prefix followed by 7 digit numbers.

But upon further inspection on the problematic area  ......

Fig. 1 Malaysia 11th Series 10 Ringgit Reverse side

Queen Elizabeth II Portraits on Banknotes - An Overview

Of all the dignitaries throughout the entire human history, Queen Elizabeth II's portrait has appeared on the most number of banknotes from countries across all the continents on this planet. Her image appear on Canadain banknote when she was as young as 8, then Princess Elizabeth, before her uncle abdicated, making her father the King of England, hence making her the next in line for the throne.

The Washington Post did a wonderful piece on QE2 and the author summarized it rather neatly in an infographic potraying the countries and years of which QE2 appeared on their banknotes. All in there are 33 countries involved since her ascension to the throne in 1953. And today, less than half of those countries still retain her portrait.

The full article is here : Every Country that Feature Queen Elizabeth II on it Currency

So here's to all you collectors of QE2 banknotes.

A numismatic story of the Chinese New Year

Ang Pow or 紅包

he 2017 Chinese New Year is just around the corner. We wish all fellow collectors and numismatist a very prosperous new year ahead and may you find what you seek for your collections.

The Chinese New Year (of the Lunar Calendar), also know was Spring Festival (春節) in China, is widely celebrated throughout East Asian countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. In Malaysia, we get 2 days off and most ethnic Chinese folks will travel to their home towns for the reunion dinner with their families on the new year eve, followed by 15 days of celebration, visiting friends and relatives, with lots of feasting and gift giving.

Speaking of gifts, one of the most prominent practices during this period is the giving of  紅包 (hong bao) or "Ang Pow" meaning "red packets". These are essentially decorative red colored envelopes filled with money, given to unmarried children by parents and also to all the children of  their friends and relatives whom we visit or even bumped into!  As a child, we all grew up looking forward to receiving them during the new year and would most probably spend them on sweets, toys and fire works, despite our parents advising us to save the money!

Curious as to where and how did this practice came to be, we did a little research of our own.

As expected, there are several versions as to the origins of Ang Pow.

It is commonly believed that during the Sung Dynasty ( 宋朝) era in China (A.D. 960-1279), in a village called Chang-Chieu a huge demon used to terrorize the villagers once every year. No warrior can defeat it. Then along came a young orphan, armed with a sacred sabre inherited from his ancestors fought this evil demon and defeated it. Grateful for this noble deed, the villagers presented the young lad with red packets filled with money in it as a reward.

Interesting no doubt but some how it does not sound very convincing, the story is far too simple to be believable right? ....  the good news is that there is an alternative version to this, which happens to be our favorite,  the story goes like this :

In ancient times, they were not called Ang Pows, the name only came in to use only in the last century or so.  During the early Ching Dynasty era (1644 - 1911), they were called 壓歲錢 (ya sui qian), translated it means "lucky money" but the literal translation sounds more intriguing -  壓 (ya) means to press or put pressure on something,  歲 (sui) means age in years and 錢 (qian) means money.

So why such a weird name you ask? Legend has it that in ancient times, there were little demons called 祟 (sui), with dark body and white hands that goes around harming little children during the night before the Chinese New Year. Note that the sound of the word 祟 (sui) is akin to 歲 or 睡 also pronounced as sui, meaning age or to sleep.

These little demons (and mind you there are hundreds of types of demons in Chinese mythology) would roam the cities and villages late at night, they put their hand on a sleeping child's forehead and a bout high fever will ensue and they will be eventually become mentally ill for life.

Needless to say, parents are worried about these little creatures, they encourage their kids of stay up all night since the demons can only harm sleeping children. One family strung together 8 pieces of coins for their child to play in attempt to keep him awake. Unfortunately the child was too tired and fell asleep and the parents put the string of 8 coins under the child's pillow and decided to stay up all night with candles lit to keep watch over their precious little one. But they too, fell asleep ..... a gust blew off the candle.

A string of ancient Chinese coins

The little demon sneaked into the room with glee and as its white hands reaches out to touch the poor child's forehead, the glittering coins startled the little devil which shrieked and ran away as fast as it could, thus the coins have saved the child from harm.

Those were obviously brilliant uncirculated coins!

It was later revealed that the coins were a physical manifestation of the famous 8 deities or 8 immortals (八仙) in Chinese mythology. And so word got around that we should put a string of coins under the pillow to protect our children from harm. So giving coins to children is to protect them from sickness and we've been practicing it ever since.

The glittering coin scared off the little demon 

Nice ending right ?

Do note that in the story, the glittering coins that the parents used must has been in Brilliant Uncirculated condition! Which also explains why til this very day we insist in getting uncirculated banknotes to put into our red packets!


恭喜發財  紅包那來!

Translation : Happy New Year, Can I have my red packet now please? 

Straits Settlements 10 Dollars - A Contemporary Forgery

We're back!  From a long absence because we were working on a book project with Mr. Saran Singh. Now that the book has been published and launched, we can do go back to our usual "business".

For our first blog posting of 2017, we have a interesting piece of a forgery note - a Straits Settlements $10 note, dated 1 January 1935. We believe is may be a contemporary forgery (due to the apparent ageing of the paper), which means that it as created at the time when these notes were legal tender and in active circulation.

Take a look :

Fig 1. : Straits Settlements $10 - Obverse (Counterfeit)

"Malaysia" has been around since 1832?

Today, 16 September 2016 marks the 53rd anniversary of the formation of the Federation of Malaysia, which comprised of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore at the time it was formed on this day in 1963.

While Malaysia as a country technically came into existence in 1963, the name "Malaysia" has been in use for much longer than that, in fact it has been around for more than 130 years! 

The name Malaysia or “Malaisie” in French, has been used on maps long before the formation of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. One such example is the map titled “S. E. Peninsula and Malaysia” published W. & A.K. Johnston in 1849. Measuring 24 by 19.5 inches (50cm x 60cm), it also covers “Pulo Pinang or Prince of Wales Island”.  W. & A.K. Johnston was one of the major publishing houses of the 19th century, they were based in Edinburgh, U.K. 

This "Malaysia" piece was found in "The National Atlas Of Historical, Commercial, And Political Geography, Constructed From The Most Recent And Authentic Sources, By Alexander Keith Johnston, F.R.G.S., Honorary Member Of The Geographical Society, Berlin, And Geographer At Edinburgh In Ordinary To Her Majesty. With A Copious Index Carefully Compiled From The Maps", first published in 1843. 

Figure 1: A.K. Johnston’s 1849 map titled “S. E. Peninsula and Malaysia”
Figure 1: A.K. Johnston’s 1849 map titled “S. E. Peninsula and Malaysia”

BNM Event - Works on Paper : Art Inside the Wallet

Date : 4 August 2016

Banknotes are something that we use everyday of our lives and yet 99.9% of us do not pay much attention when we take them out of our wallets or purse and handing them over to the cashier. As our newly appointed BNM Governor aptly puts it in his opening speech today, the ONLY time we ever pay attention to the banknotes is when the cashier hands it back to us and telling us it is not acceptable, for whatever reasons!  Of course we the numismatists and collectors are the exception!

Which brings us to the main purpose of this 4 month long exhibition, which is to create awareness in the general public that that paper money are essentially works of art. Did you know that the picture of Mount Kinabalu at the back of RM1 and RM100 are hand painted first before being transferred to the printing plates and printed? There is a lot of work and money, pun intended, put into printing these bits of paper in your wallet and they are produced at such a high level of consistency that the ONLY way you can tell a difference between two RM100 notes is by their serial number!

Malaysia 50 Ringgit - Extra Digit in Serial Number

This interesting 50 Ringgit piece landed on my table some weeks back. It's not mine but I was asked to take a look at it. Here's the high resolution photo of the reverse  :

Fig. 1 : Malaysian RM50 Ringgit, Reverse

Can you see the very faint extra digit on the bottom right?

For those who collect fancy number banknotes, they will know that the only way the digit at the back can only happen when the serial number reaches ten million or 10000000. And as far as I know for that last piece in each prefix, the last digit "0" is manually inserted, not printed by the numbering machine. So there is absolutely no way an extra digit is going to appear in the location above, what more it is also misaligned; the last digit is always a zero, not eight.

So at the first glance this piece looks suspicious already!

Now if you check the last digit really up close, here's what you'll see :

Comparing 2 digits of "8"
Fig. 2 : Comparing the 2 digits of "8" under a microscope

The one on the left is the last digit and the one on the right is another "8" for the same banknote. Notice the difference in the height and width?

That's the dead giveaway that the extra "8" is added after the banknote left the factory.

So folks, please be careful when you come across any such "error notes".

Happy Collecting !