OSAKA — Yoshitaka Kimura takes pride in the skillful hands with which he is able to complete the job that the machines fail to accomplish in turning out coins at Japan Mint’s Osaka headquarters.
The incorporated administrative agency in Osaka is in high gear minting ¥10 coins showing the year Heisei 22 inscribed on the reverse side. It represents the number of years since Emperor Akihito succeeded his father, Emperor Showa, in 1989.
The facility makes about 60 percent of coins in circulation in the country, ranging from the lightweight ¥1 coin, made from aluminum, to the ¥500 coin, the largest one used.
The mechanization of the production of coins, for example, makes it possible for the Osaka mint to produce about 750 ¥10 coins per minute. Each coin displays an image of the well-known Byodo-in Hoodo Buddhist temple in Kyoto on the obverse side, and Heisei 22 on the reverse.
Kimura said he “takes pride in giving expression” to the coins in a way that machines cannot.
Kimura, 56, and his colleagues were in a hushed workroom located several hundred meters away from the work site where the last stage of creating ¥10 coins was under way.
It involves using “atsuinki” pressurizing seal tools to carve the design of Byodo-in Hoodo within a space 23.5 mm in diameter.
They are members of a section responsible for making “tanein,” or the basis of a seal that becomes, in turn, the basis of a metal stamp called “kokuin” that is necessary for the pressurizing seal instrument.
Their job is to re-engrave by hand the temple’s contours, which appeared to have been blurred while undergoing the process of production by machine. Their work is even said to be indispensable from the standpoint of thwarting circulation of counterfeits.
Holding a tool that has a pointed tip less than 0.1 mm thick and is thinner than a sewing needle, Kimura looked through a microscope at the part of the seal showing the temple’s stone steps.
The delicate movements of the tool in his hand were hardly observable, and all that was audible was the hum of a nearby air conditioner.
A quick look at the seal through the microscope revealed it was completely different after Kimura had retouched it. A layman’s naked eye would not have been able to tell the difference.
The contours of the stone steps could be seen from Kimura’s efforts and the entire Byodo-in Hoodo seemed to emerge. The most difficult part of his work was the rail and roof of the temple.
Kimura, who has been on the job for 35 years, is due to retire in four years. Three others who work with him are in their 30s and 40s. It is not the sort of work just anyone can learn by listening to others talking about it, he said.
“I want my younger colleagues to see with their own eyes how I work, think about it and hone their skills,” he said.
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