Photo:Chi-Hung Lin on Flickr

A History of Japanese Yen

The yen is Japan's official currency with symbol “¥” on their coin or paper money. Based on ISO 4217, its code is JPY and in Japanese is written and pronounced as en () which means “round”. In less than 200 years, this currency went from a strict assortment selected by the Shogun to one of the world's most valuable mediums of exchange. Outside Japan, people pronounce it as "yen" because the first Western missionaries, did so. During those times, when Keshogunan Tokugawa was reigning, pronunciation for "e" was pronounced as "je" therefore Edo City was written as Yedo City, Ezo Island became Yeso Island and Ebisu was changed into Yebisu. Today, the yen is the world's third most traded currency after the dollar and euro. on Flickr


The birth of the yen is arguably rather recent. Before 1871, during the Meiji reforms, Japan had many different currencies that were strictly decided by the Shoguns and was mostly coins. That all changed when they decided to create a uniform currency much like Europe's. By 1897, Japan adopted the gold exchange standard (they would remove from it in 1931) and the yen was gradually becoming more valuable. They now had coins and paper money for the first time.


Before 1953, unit of the Japanese currency was:

  • sen () 1/100 of yen
  • rin (): 1/1000 of Yen

According to regulation of currency, the usage of sen and rin were allowed but in the general market it is not used anymore. Today, sen and rin are only used in the stock market exchange.

Toby Oxborrow on Flickr


There are several things Japanese yen has that make it different from other currencies apart from the circles in the centeron the 5 and 50 yen coins. The faces on the banknotes are famous historical figures. These are people who have made a huge impact on Japanese society. On the 10,000 JPY bill is the author, teacher, and founder of Keio University, Yukichi Fukuzawa. On the 5000 yen bill is the writer, Ichiyo Higuchi. Finally, on the 1000 yen bill is the bacteriologist Hideyo Noguchi.

bfishadow on Flickr

When you come to Japan, be sure to take a few of these bills home with you. It is with these monetary bills that helped make Japan an economic power it is today. While every country has a currency, one distinct thing about Japan's is what it represents. Change is good!

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