Who and What Can You Find On Japanese Money? Learn About Japan’s Culture and History Through Its Banknotes!
The widespread use of cashless payment also results in an increase of people who walk around without carrying cash. When you visit Japan, though, one of the things you have to pay attention to are the banknotes. In addition to their sophisticated printing technology for preventing counterfeiting, the bills in Japan also feature designs that explain the history and culture of the country. Get a glimpse into a new face of Japan through the designs of its banknotes.
Four Types of Banknotes in Circulation
Japan has four types of banknotes in circulation today: the 10,000 JPY, 5,000 JPY, 2,000 JPY, and 1,000 JPY bills.
When you hold a banknote, try to touch its surface first. The part where the number is written and the bottom corners should feel rough to the touch. This rough texture is created by a special printing method wherein the ink is raised on the bill to prevent counterfeiting and to help the visually impaired know what banknote they are holding. The watermark in the middle is also for preventing counterfeiting as it changes the thickness of the paper to make the surface uneven.
Japanese banknotes also adopt other anti-counterfeiting measures. Try slightly tilting a banknote. You will notice that when you change the angle, characters and patterns may appear.
So, the next time you get to hold a Japanese banknote, make sure to take a good look!
Banknote Designs Are Filled With Historical Figures and Cultural Properties
Banknotes in Japan are characterized by designs that feature historical figures and cultural assets. All the people whose faces are on the banknotes were prominent figures in the fields of politics, economics, academics, and culture. Meanwhile, the cultural properties on the banknotes are also spots that are extremely well known in the country.
With that, here are the figures and cultural properties printed on each banknote in Japan.
10,000 JPY: Fukuzawa Yukichi and Byodoin Temple
Front side: Fukuzawa Yukichi (January 10, 1835 - February 3, 1901), an enlightenment thinker and educator
He worked on the development of human resources during the Meiji period (1868 - 1912), when Japan bade farewell to the era of samurai warriors and started on the path to modernization. He founded Keio University, which has become one of the leading private universities in Japan today. Fukuzawa also enlightened the Japanese about Japan's position in the international community.
Back side: Ho-o (Chinese Phoenix, which is found in the Phoenix Hall of Byodoin Temple)
The Chinese Phoenix is a sacred bird of legend that apparently came to Japan together with the advent of Buddhism in the country. It is believed to come when something good happens.
The basis of this design on the reverse side of the bill is the statue that was erected on the roof of Byodoin Temple in Kyoto’s Uji City. Byodoin was built about 1,000 years ago by an aristocrat who held real political power at that time.
5,000 JPY: Higuchi Ichiyo and Kakitsubata-zu
Front side: Higuchi Ichiyo (May 2, 1872 - November 23, 1896), novelist
Higuchi Ichiyo was a female writer from the Meiji period, similar to Fukuzawa Yukichi. Her works were recognized while she was young, but she died of pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 24. While she was only active for just about 1.5 years, she remains popular not just for her novels, but also for her tragic fate. Today, people continue to admire her work “Takekurabe” (Growing Up), which painted a picture of the coming of age of children.
Back side: Kakitsubatazu (Irises) by Korin Ogata
The Kakitsubata-zu depicts the rhythmical arrangement of irises that mark the onset of May against a gold background. It was painted around 300 years ago by Ogata Korin, a painter and craftsman that represented the Edo period (1603 - 1868). This exciting work of art continues to influence many paintings and designs today. It is on display at the Nezu Museum in Tokyo.
1,000 JPY: Noguchi Hideyo and Mt. Fuji
Front side: Noguchi Hideyo (November 9, 1876 - May 21, 1928), physician and bacteriologist
Born to a poor farming family from the Tohoku region, Noguchi Hideyo overcame great hardship and obstacles to become a world-renowned bacteriologist. His life was full of difficult stories and wild episodes, so it is virtually impossible to read his biography without laughing. Noguchi conducted research around the world, but he died at the age of 51 while he was studying yellow fever in Africa.
Back side: Mt. Fuji
The image of Mt. Fuji reflected on the surface of a lake is called “Sakasa Fuji" (inverted Mt. Fuji), and since it is rarely seen, it has been considered an auspicious scenery since olden times. The rendition of the inverted Mt. Fuji on the back of the 1,000 JPY bill is based on the photograph taken by famous photographer Koyo Okada at Lake Motosu in Yamanashi.
2,000 JPY: Shurei Gate and Illustrated Handscrolls of The Tale of Genji
Issued to commemorate the millennium and the Okinawa Summit (G8 Summit) that was held in 2000, the 2,000 JPY bill is a banknote with an extremely small number in circulation. You’re very lucky if you happen to encounter this banknote.
Front side: Shurei Gate
The present Okinawa Prefecture was home to the Ryukyu Kingdom from 1429 to 1879. The Shurei Gate was erected at the entrance of Shuri Castle during the Ryukyu Kingdom era, and was believed to have been built around 1530. The Shurei Gate that stands today was rebuilt in 1958.
Back side: Scene from “Suzumushi"(Bell Cricket), an Illustrated Handscroll of The Tale of Genji
Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji) is a full-length novel that was written by the female author Murasaki Shikibu about 1,000 years ago. The man on the right side of the 2,000 JPY bill is Hikaru Genji, an aristocrat and the main character in the novel. On the left side is Emperor Reizei who was born to Hikaru Genji and his destined partner Fujitsubo. At the bottom right is a drawing of the author Murasaki peeking in.
New Designs Starting 2024
The banknotes in Japan will be renewed starting 2024, marking the first overhaul of three of the country’s banknotes in 20 years. Unfortunately, the 2,000 JPY bill will keep its current design since there is only a small number of this banknote in circulation today.
Below are the people and structures to be used for the new designs of the banknotes that have been unveiled.
10,000 JPY: Shibusawa Eiichi and Marunouchi Building of Tokyo Station
Front side: Shibusawa Eiichi (March 16, 1840 - November 11, 1931), business leader
Eiichi Shibusawa laid the foundation for economic development during the Meiji period, when modernization advanced in Japan. He was a bureaucrat who led financial reforms in the country. After retirement, he became instrumental in the establishment of the Tokyo Stock Exchange and the First National Bank. He advocated the importance of companies that are not just chase after profits but also help society, and that spirit has come to influence many founders of major companies.
Back side: Marunouchi Building of Tokyo Station
Tokyo Station’s Marunouchi Building was built in 1914 based on the design by Kingo Tatsuno, a representative architect of Japan. It is a robust building characterized by its red brick facade. At present, it is still being used as a train station building and is designated as a national important cultural property.
5,000 JPY: Tsuda Umeko and Wisteria Flowers
Front side: Tsuda Umeko (December 31, 1864 - August 16, 1926), educator
Around 150 years ago, it was uncommon for Japanese women to devote themselves to education. Tsuda Umeko was different, as she went to the U.S. twice to study and vowed to dedicate her life to the education of women in Japan. The school that she founded, Joshi Eigaku Juku (Women’s Institute for English Studies, which is currently known as Tsuda University), has transformed into one of the top women’s colleges in Japan today.
Back side: Wisteria
Wisteria is the flower that best represents the month of May in Japan. The most common wisteria, which belongs to the pea family of plants, is the pale purple kind that hangs from above. Japanese people have always loved this flower, and its beauty is often used as motif for paintings, designs, songs, and dances.
1,000 JPY: Kitasato Shibasaburo and The Great Wave Off Kanagawa from the Thirty-Six Sceneries of Mt. Fuji
Front side: Kitasato Shibasaburo (January 29, 1853 - June 13, 1931), physician, bacteriologist, and entrepreneur
Kitasato Shibasaburo is one the foremost leading medical scientists in Japan. He is known as the father of bacteriology in Japan for discovering the plague bacillus and the treatment for tetanus. Noguchi Hideyo, the bacteriologist who is on the face of the current 1,000 JPY banknote, also worked in Kitasato’s laboratory. Kitasato is not only known for his research activities, but he is also credited for building the medical school of Keio University that was founded by Fukuzawa Yukichi, the face of the 10,000 JPY bill today.
Back side: The Great Wave Off Kanagawa from the Thirty-Six Sceneries of Mt. Fuji by Hokusai Katsushika
The Thirty-Six Sceneries of Mt. Fuji, an ukiyo-e (woodblock print) depicting Mt. Fuji from various areas and angles, is a masterpiece created by the famous ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai. It was unveiled from 1831 until around 1835. One of the most famous ukiyo-e works is the “Kanagawa Oki Namiura" (The Great Wave Off Kanagawa), which was chosen to be the design of the new 1,000 JPY banknote.
Two Museums to Learn More About Japanese Banknotes
If you want to know more about Japanese banknotes, then it would be best to visit the following museums. Both of these museums are less than 30 minutes away from Tokyo Station by train and admission into their premises is free.
Currency Museum by the Bank of Japan
The Currency Museum of the Bank of Japan’s Institute for Monetary and Economic Studies is the best place not just for banknotes, but also for coins. Here, you will also learn about the history and culture of coins in Japan.
Banknote & Postage Stamp Museum by the National Printing Bureau
If you want to know more about the history of banknotes and stamps, then the Banknote & Postage Stamp Museum is recommended for you. There are also exhibitions on anti-counterfeiting technology here, so you will learn about banknotes from a scientific perspective.
Getting to know the figures and cultural properties featured on banknotes in more detail will definitely help you understand who the Japanese people value and what structures and places they think are beautiful. Try to visit at least one of the places where you will learn about the origins of the banknote designs in Japan.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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