Japanese Coins - Knowing the Yen and its History

Japanese money says okane [お金], the official currency of Japan is called en [] which in English says yen and in English yen. In this article, we will see some curiosities about this and other Japanese coins.

Some think that Japan throughout its history has only had the Yen as currency, but there were other currencies with other names. The big confusion is that en [円] is a word that can refer to any currency, so the other currencies went unnoticed.

Curiosities about money in Japan

The history of money in the country goes back hundreds of years being influenced by other Asian countries. The yen was introduced in the Meiji era in 1871 with fractionation. Before there were other currencies that we will see in the article.

In Japanese the yen is always called en. There is no plural in the Japanese language for this word, nor is there a fractioned currency like cents in Brazil. Money will always be called en.

Wado - The first Japanese coins

First coins were minted around 708 AD and were small silver discs through which a square hole was drilled. They were modeled after the Chinese coins of the time and were called from Japan Wado Kaichin or Wado Kaiho.

The Japanese government considered the new coins so important, that people were offered positions in the Imperial court that had large amounts of currency. From an early age government hunting for money. lol

Mintage it is the process by which coins go through to be recorded. It consists of promoting the stamping of a design on one or both sides of a coin, using a stamp for that purpose.

Japanese coins - knowing the yen

Kochosen - Japanese copper coins

In between 708 and 958 AD a variety of copper-based coins of different sizes were minted, but still on the same disk with a square hole.

These coins were known as Kochosen, which can be translated as "domestic imperial copper." Coinage was interrupted during the 10th century, to protect the government from collapse.

The scarcity of copper and mismanagement of coinage caused the value of Kochosen's coins to decline to a point where ordinary people refused to use it in trade.

Koshu Kin - the Japanese peso coin

It took until the 15th century for coins to be used again in Japan. The coins of Koshu Kin had no value denominational, but they were valued by weight, which was the only thing engraved on them.

Made of gold and silver, coined by individual warlords, they were a convenient way to buy land and weapons.

How much does the yen cost or is it worth?

As already mentioned, the current money is called yen [円], in the west known by the strange symbol [¥]. We currently have in circulation:

  • Values of coins in circulation: ¥ 1, ¥ 5, ¥ 10, ¥ 50, ¥ 100, ¥ 500;
  • Outstanding banknote values: ¥ 1,000, ¥ 2,000, ¥ 5,000, ¥ 10,000;
Japanese coins - knowing the yen
Image of the time that the dollar was R$ 3.15! Miss you…

Do not be fooled by these large values, we must consider that there are no measurements of cents or decimals. Simply put, the Japanese currency is not fractional!

If we were to transform each currency ignoring the exchange rate, and considering the price of products and the economy of Japan, we would have an equivalent note below: (Exchange of the Dollar on the date of this update about 5 reais).

Responsive Table: Roll the table sideways with your finger >>
1 yen0.05 cents1 cents
5 yen0.25 cents5 cents
10 yen0.50 Cents10 cents
50 yen2.30 Reais50 cents
100 yen4.60 Reais1 real
500 yen25.00 Reais5 reais
1,000 yen50.00 Reais10 Reais
2,000 yen100.00 Reais20 reais
5,000 yen250.00 Reais50 Reais
10,000 yen500.00 Reais100 reais

This table is not accurate, it just shows how Japan would work if they used [R$] instead of yen. What is the purpose of it? Helping them to get an idea of the money, showing that 300 BRL for us is nothing more than 100 BRL for them.

Even if someone earns 300,000 yen a month, which is equivalent to 7,800.00 Reais. When consuming it in Japan, considering the price of things and the economy, your money was no more than 3,000 BRL spent.

In the eyes of foreigners, Japan is a place with an expensive cost of living. But for those who use the yen currency [円] and have a good salary, it ends up being a much better cost of living than in Brazil.

Sen and Rin - the yen has already been split

Has the yen ever had a penny? The yen was introduced to Japan in the year 1871 and had not one but two fractions called RIN [厘] and SEN [銭]. Better understand how this fractionation works below:

  • 10 RIN = 1 SEN
  • 100 SEN = 1 EN

That was how things worked in Japan until 1953. There were 1 and 5 RIN coins, followed by 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 SEN. At the time of fractionation, the yen was 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500.

In Japan there were even coins that were not entirely round, as in the case of some versions of 1 SEN and 1 YEN. See below some images of these fractional coins and the old yen:

Japanese coins - knowing the yen and its history

How much did the yen cost in the past?

It is not so easy to discuss these old values, because things worked very differently from the current market. The data I found during this research always points to comparisons with gold, stock exchange and not with the dollar that we are used to. Not to mention that the history of the currency in Brazil has had many twists and turns, making it somewhat incomprehensible for current comparisons. 

I will not try to go into the subject of economics, inflation, cost of living and countless other factors that cause the currency to fluctuate in an incomprehensible way today. If you want to understand better, we recommend researching on demand and supply, economic deflation, purchasing power parity and international trade.

In 1914 a yen was equivalent to 0,50 in dollar. It is believed that 100 yen in 1914 is equivalent to 300,000 yen in 2017. Totally understandable, since 1 dollar in 1914 is equivalent to 23 dollars in 2015. 

With 100 yen around 1920 you could buy 200kg of rice, 800 eggs, 4 years of subscription to the newspaper, go to the cinema 100 times or eat a thousand ramen. Remembering to be one of the items mentioned and not all.

If you had 100 yen before the coin stopped being split, you would be considered a rich man. Especially because at the time the biggest paper note was 100 yen. 

The most recent table that compares the dollar to the yen dates from 1973 to 2016. Thus showing that in the last 40 years the value of the yen has left a devaluation and is currently worth more than the dollar.

Of course, we need to find out about the economy, cost of living and salary at the time. Mainly because the yen hasn't been fractionated since 1953 (there are no cents), its lowest note is 1,000. So I personally consider 100 yen to be a 1.00 if the coin had cents.

The table below shows how many yen a dollar was worth from 1973 to 2016:

Responsive Table: Roll the table sideways with your finger >>

What about the currencies that existed before the yen? If we look at the old values, we are going to be completely confused to notice that something costs 60 or even 600x more today, but we must remember that the currencies of that time were fractional and we cannot directly convert a yen. 

In the period It’s from 1 mon (文) was worth about 12 yen these days, but it's worth remembering that gold and silver were also used back then. In the Meiji era (1867-1912) one yen back then is equivalent to 3,800 yen today.

Why are the 5 and 50 yen coins punctured?

In the past, several currencies from different countries had a hole in the middle to prevent counterfeiting and lower production costs. However, with the advancement of technology, several countries abandoned the practice of making punctured coins, except Japan and a few countries.

Nowadays the holes in the Japanese currency are currently of great help to the visually impaired. It is believed that these holes were originally made to save metals that were scarce after World War II.

The pierced 5 yen coin was created in 1948, whereas the 50 yen coin had no holes, but because it is very similar to the 100 yen coin, they soon made a hole in it to help in its identification.

Although we know the main reason why the 5 and 50 yen coins have a hole in the middle, there are still doubts about the origin of the holes in the coins. That's because more than 1300 years ago there were several Japanese coins with a square hole in the middle, even during the Edo period (1603 - 1868).

China may have influenced Japan’s pierced coins as it has influenced much of Japan’s history and culture. There are theories that the circle of the coin represented the universe and the square in the middle of the coin represented the earth. Thanks to this hole, the coins were tied to the waist, which facilitated transport and protected them from thieves.

The hole in the coin had several uses, such as serving as clothing buttons or making necklaces. Some were even used in the manufacture of weapons. In the past, coins were manufactured in a way that removing and separating them during their casting was very laborious, the holes in the middle somehow facilitated this process.

You can read about the hole in the coin and the fact that the 5 yen coin is lucky in our Goen article.

Japanese coins - knowing the yen and its history

The faces of Japanese money

Have you ever wondered who those people are with your face on the 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 yen bills? Let's take a deep look at the origin of these notes and the people stamped on them.

Whose face is on the 1,000 yen bills?

In the 1000 yen note we have the face of Hideyo Noguchi (1876-1928) printed since the year 2004. He was a great Japanese scientist, physicist and bacteriologist who was responsible for discovering the antidote for snakebites and the causative agent of syphilis. He also proved that yellow fever was a viral disease and not a bacterial one as previously thought.

Hideyo Noguchi's history is quite troubled, he went through several difficulties in childhood, but he recovered becoming one of the most brilliant minds of the time. He is honored in several countries, including a statue of him in the city of Campinas. On the back of the note we find cherry blossoms, Lake Motosu and Mount Fuji.

Whose faces are on 5,000 yen notes?

On the 5000 yen note we have the face of the Japanese writer, novelist and poet Ichiyo Higuchi (1872 - 1896) also known as Natsuko Higuchi. She was the first prominent writer in modern-day Japan.

She was short-lived, but her stories had a great impact on Japanese literature and is still appreciated by Japanese people today. One of his famous works is Takurabe, which has even been adapted in the cinema. Behind the note we find a work representing flowers from Isis, painted by Koorin Ogata.

The faces of Japanese money - yen - yen 1

10,000 yen bill face

The 10000 Yen banknote has the face of Yukichi Fukuzawa (1835-1901), a journalist and entrepreneur who fought for civil rights. He is known as the Japanese Voltaire and contributed to the spread of liberalist ideas and the modernization of Japan.

In Japan you find people referring to the note as "Yukichi-san". On the other side of the note is the image of the Phoenix statue from the Byodoin Temple.

Faces in other yen notes

The 2000 yen note, which is very rare, has no face. On the front of the note, we find the design of Shureimon, a famous portal located in Naha - Okinawa. On the back we find the representation of Genji's tale in Murasaki Shikibu's Monogatari.

Between 1984 and 2004 the 1000 yen banknote had the face of Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) a Japanese novelist. He is known for the works Kokoro, Botchan, I Am a Car and Light and Darkness. He is often considered the greatest writer in modern Japanese history.

On the old 5000 yen banknote, it had the face of Nitobe Inazo (1862-1933) an agricultural economist, author, educator, diplomat, politician and Christian. and on the 10000 yen note the face of Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901) a Japanese author, writer, teacher and translator.

Another personality that appeared in several ancient yen notes is the Prince Shōtoku (574-622) who had great political and religious influence during the history of Japan. It appeared on 1000 yen notes from 1950 to 1953, and 5000 and 10000 yen notes from 1957 to 1969.

See other old notes and the names of personalities who were present in them:

  • 1 yen - 1946-1948 - Ninomiya Sontoku
  • 50 yen - 1950-1953 - Takahashi Korekiyo
  • 100 yen - 1950-1953 - Itagaki Taisuke
  • 500 yen -1950-1953 - Iwakura Tomomi
  • 500 yen - 1957-1969 - Iwakura Tomomi
  • 1000 yen - 1957-1969 - Ito Hirobumi

Yen Questions

In addition to the questions already mentioned, some ask several questions about the Japanese currency, let's take these questions and answer them below:

How to read the yen?

The Japanese yen has no plural, no matter if the person speaks one or 10 yen, it will always be read en [円] meaning circle or coin, the Japanese word for Japan's money. Did you know that in Japanese there is no plural?

Why is there no penny in the Japanese yen?

The answer is quite simple, the people preferred it that way. The Japanese currency has been fractioned in the past, but due to economic problems and inflation, cents have become obsolete, and no other fractional currency has been created.

To learn more about the fractionation of Japanese coins, we wrote an article on the yen to be devalued and its currency to be split. Is it true? For the simple fact that the currency has no cents, some end up having this idea of devaluation.

Why is the value of the yen so low?

Some question why the yen has such a low value, saying that money is devalued. As already mentioned, Japanese money is not fractional, which is why this impression is misleading. The value of the yen is equivalent to the dollar, but without cents.

It all happened when the Bretton Woods System collapsed in 1971, Japan's currency began to fluctuate. Result of the Japanese effort to become one of the greatest economic and industrial powers in the world.

Which currency is worth the yen or real?

The yen is much more valued than the Real, being the third most widely circulated currency in the world. The yen is only behind the dollar and the euro. The currency is widely traded on the stock exchanges, it is always mentioned and traded among the big ones.

How many yen does a Japanese worker earn?

In Japan the minimum wage is around 150.00 yen, can easily reach 300,000 yen, over 10,000 BRL when converted. In Japan, wages are paid by the hour, so your earnings can vary greatly by location, job, and workload. To learn more, read our article on Japanese Salary.

How much is R$ 1 in Japan? How much is R$ 100 worth in Japan?

1 real is equivalent to about 25 yen, while 100 BRL is equivalent to about 250 yen, while 1000 BRL is equivalent to about 25,430 yen. Below we leave a table with details:

  • R$ 1 is equivalent to 25 yen;
  • R$ 2 is equivalent to 50 yen;
  • R$ 5 equals 125 yen;
  • R$ 10 equals 253 yen;
  • R$ 25 equals 631 yen;
  • R$ 50 equals 1,263 yen;
  • R$ 100 equals 2526 yen;
  • R$ 300 equals 7578 yen;
  • R$ 500 equals 12,629 yen;
  • R$ 1000 is equivalent to 25,000 yen;
  • R$ 2000 is equivalent to 50,000 yen;
  • R$ 10,000 is equivalent to 250,000 yen;
  • R$ 50,000 equals 1,262,000 yen;
  • R$ 100,000 is equivalent to 2,525,000 yen;
  • R$ 1,000,000 equals 25,258,000 yen;

How much is 1 dollar in Japan? Convert US Dollar to Yen

I like to say that about 100 yen equals 1 dollar. In fact, since the yen has no cents, I usually use the dollar to calculate, just put a comma before the last two zeros to get the dollar value.

Of course, the yen has been undervalued lately and the dollar has been up. This comparison is no longer accurate as it was a few years ago, but it can be done to calculate the purchasing power of the currency.

As of the update date of this article (08/03/2022) the yen is quoted at 0.75 USD. Despite this, the table below will maintain the pattern I use to calculate the yen with the dollar.

  • USD 1.00 is equivalent to about 100 yen;
  • USD 2.00 is equivalent to about 200 yen;
  • USD 5.00 is equivalent to about 500 yen;
  • USD 10.00 is equivalent to about 1,000 yen;
  • USD 25.00 is equivalent to about 2,500 yen;
  • USD 50.00 is equivalent to about 5,000 yen;
  • USD 100.00 is equivalent to about 10,000 yen;
  • USD 1,000.00 is equivalent to approximately 100,000 yen;

Why is the real worth more than the yen?

People have the misconception that the real is worth more than the yen, but what happens is that the Japanese currency has no cents and is not fractional. Its smallest paper bill is 1,000 yen.

This does not mean that the Japanese currency is more devalued than the Brazilian currency, the purchasing power of the Japanese and the yen is much greater than that of Brazilians with real.

Japanese Money Videos

To finish the article, we will leave some videos about Japanese money and its curiosities:

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