Designated as a National Cultural Property, the National Printing Bureau Banknotes and Postage Stamp Museum in Oji is one of the many interesting and informative museums in Tokyo with free admission. Most of the exhibit titles have corresponding English translations but all the information provided, including that on brochures, are only in Japanese.
For a moment, I was having second thoughts about proceeding with the visit. I found myself in a quagmire of language illiteracy, lost in a web of meaningless (to me) symbols. Itʼs easy to fall into frustration knowing you will never get a good grasp of the writings on the wall. But the only thing necessary really is an open mind. Often thereʼs a delightful surprise that pops out from somewhere. That being said, the best way to enjoy the museum is simply to let go of things that have no meaning to you, and to try to connect the dots that make sense. Hopefully youʼll come away with something memorable just as I did.
The two-story museum building is an easy 5 minute stroll from the train station. Itʼs on the right hand side of the main street and sits in front of the pedestrian crossing near the park. Upon entering, a staff on duty instructed me to fill out a visitorʼs sheet. It is in Japanese but he was armed with a little English to get me through. After a short introduction of the place, youʼre free to roam around. Take note that photography of the exhibits is strictly prohibited, in case you missed the sign by the entrance.
Since its creation in 1871, the National Bureau of Printing has continuously been in operation. The first floor exhibit presents the manufacturing processes for banknotes and postage stamps, while the second floor shows the history of paper currency and stamps. The more popular attractions are the counterfeit prevention technology, the exhibit on “100 Million Yen, Can You Wait?” and the interactive experience corner. The last one is the only section that allows photography. If you are interested to know the equivalent of your height and weight in stacked yen notes, then you mustnʼt miss this.
Photo: Nelson Cunnington on FlickrMy favorite section is the glass box that displays some of the worldʼs most unique paper money. When I went to Switzerland, I thought the Swiss Franc paper bills have the weirdest looking portrait prints. I guess I was right because the display showed one. But compared to the other currencies on display, it no longer occupies the top spot for me. Do you know which country produced a bill all in gold? Or which country produced a large square-shaped note? Well, Iʼm not going to tell you. Youʼll have to go and see for yourself.
I have never seen a “2 Thousand Yen” paper bill. So I was very excited to have discovered it here in the museum. I wasnʼt aware that it is actually in circulation. So my need-to-know instinct brought me straight to the reception desk to inquire. Imagine my surprise when the receptionist took out a real 2 thousand yen note that looked like it just came out fresh from the press, and handed it to me. No, not for a take out souvenir, only for show. She mentioned though that it is available for exchange at the banks but that itʼs not commonly circulated. And I bet whoever has one would rather keep it, myself included. No wonder I have never encountered one in my 7 years in Japan! And yes, I just had to take a picture of it while an idea was starting to crystallize in my mind, that is, to go to the bank and make an exchange.
Now thatʼs the element of surprise I was talking about in the first part of this article. Not that it is of utmost importance, but I would never have known about the 2 Thousand Yen note had I not visited this museum. Who knows what you would discover in your visit?
Website (in English): http://www.npb.go.jp/en/museum/