Tag Archives | money

The Remarkable Art Of Giving And Receiving Change In Japan

Oona McGee on the Japanese way of giving change:

This remarkable attention to customer service even extends to the handling of cash transactions in shops around the country. Akin to an art form, a simple payment to a store clerk in Japan will inevitably set off a series of steps and precise movements to satisfy the needs of both parties and respectively complete the exchange. Come with us as we take you through the steps of a simple transaction in Japan. The attention to detail and the clever reasons for it will surprise you.

The Story of a Yen

A brief look at the story of the yen.

There were originally 100 sen to the yen and 10 rin to the sen but by 1953, given hyperinflation, a rather large war, and the impact of the gold standard, the sen and the rin were abolished and the yen, no longer 1:1, was fixed at 360 to the dollar.

He writes that the coin is called yen in English instead of the actual pronunciation en because of a spelling error. Not necessarily true. It was labeled yen due to the Japanese spelling ゑん, the first character historically being pronounced ye. The pronunciation of ゑ shifted to e around the middle of the 18th century[1], but the old spelling was retained for some time.

At any rate, the rest of the post is a good read.

Japanese Money

Japan is still very much a cash based society. Credit cards are starting to become more common, but they still aren’t widely accepted, even in big cities like Tokyo. Cash is still king in Japan. Have you ever wondered what Japanese money looked like? Wonder no more!

A Brief Tour of Japanese Money

What follows will be a very brief look at Japanese money, both the bills and the coins.

First up…

The Coins

Coins!

Just as with US pennies, ¥1 coins are more or less worthless. The difference is they are made from 100% aluminum and so weigh next to nothing—you hardly notice when they are cluttering up your pocket.

The ¥5 and ¥50 coins are kind of unique because of that hole in the middle. As far as I know, the only reason for that is tradition. Having a hole in the middle makes them easier to handle1. It’s also considered good luck, so these two coins are the most common to give at shrines and temples.

The ¥100 and ¥500 coins are somewhat nice. That’s roughly a dollar and 5 dollars US. When I am carrying these, I can imagine a time back before inflation rendered our coins in the US worthless, back when a coin actually had value and you could buy something with it.2

The Bills

Bills!

The bills are different sizes, with the higher denominations physically slightly bigger (wider). There is also a ¥2000 banknote floating around, but just like the $2 bill in the US, it is hoarded by collectors and isn’t commonly seen. Oddly enough, when I first came to Japan I received a few and, not knowing anything about them at the time, spent them. I haven’t received any since.

The only other thing of note is the faces. The ¥1000 features Noguchi Hideyo; the ¥5000 has Higuchi Ichiyo; the ¥10000, Fukuzawa Yukichi.

Who Are These Strange People?

Hideyo was a scientist. He discovered the agent of syphilis as the cause of progressive paralytic disease in 1911. He also had awesome hair.

Ichiyo was a novelist, considered to be the first professional female writer in modern Japanese literature.

Yukichi was… a lot of stuff. He is most famous, however, as the founder of Keio University, one of the top schools in Japan, and is considered a father of modern Japan. He lived a really interesting life and survived that incredibly interesting time when Japan transitioned from the Edo to the Meiji Era. Born a samurai wearing kimono and topknot, died a scholar wearing a Western style suit and Western haircut.

The End

And that’s a quick look at money. If there is enough interest, I may write more, looking at the topic in more detail. Let me know what you think.


  1. Easier, also, to string them on a neckless, which would have been a traditional way to carry coins. 

  2. Let’s pick a date a generation ago: 1953. In 1953 a quarter had the buying power of almost three 2008 dollars. To put it another way, a 2008 quarter, which is the highest coin in commmon use, has the buying power of only three 1953 cents. To say our coins in the US haven’t kept up with inflation is an understatement.