Japan is famous for its beautiful landscapes, rich culture, and fascinating history. It is also a major player in the global currency market. Japanese companies and markets feature prominently in world economic news, and the Japanese currency, the yen, is one of the most widely used currencies of the world.
If you plan to visit or send money to Japan, learning about Japanese currency is a great place to start. Besides understanding the exchange rate and pricing for transferring money overseas, it’s also worth learning about the history of the yen and how it’s used today. We’ll cover that plus five things everyone should know about Japanese currency.
Japanese currency basics
Let’s start with some basic information on the currency of Japan. Its currency code is JPY, and you can use the symbol ¥ in front of a numeric value, such as ¥100. This is the same currency symbol used for the Chinese yuan. In Japanese writing, the character for yen is 円.
The yen’s issuing bank is the country’s central bank, the Bank of Japan (BOJ), which is in Tokyo and sets the country’s monetary policy.
Like many currencies, Japanese currency comes in two forms: coins and banknotes. The most common banknote denominations include:
- 1,000 yen
- 5,000 yen
- 10,000 yen
Other denominations exist, such as 100-, 500-, and 2,000-yen banknotes, but these either aren’t used very often or are no longer in production.
Coin denominations include:
- 1 yen
- 5 yen
- 10 yen
- 50 yen
- 100 yen
- 500 yen
There’s no plural form of the word “yen,” so any amount of Japanese currency is called yen, whether it’s a 1-yen coin, a 500-yen coin, or a 10,000-yen note. There are two subunits, the sen and the rin, but these are no longer in circulation.
A rin coin was once worth 1/1,000th of a yen, but now it’s only a collector’s item.
5 fascinating facts about the Japanese yen
The yen holds historical and cultural importance that stretches far beyond the Japanese economy. Let’s take a look at the key role of Japanese currency throughout history and around the world with these five fascinating facts:
1. Japanese culture is ancient, but the yen is relatively new.
Although Japanese history goes back thousands of years, the modern Japanese yen arrived on the scene in 1871 with the passage of the New Currency Act.
This era marked the end of military rule by the Tokugawa shogunate and the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, a period of major political, economic, and social change.
The yen replaced a more complex monetary system that used a copper coin called the mon. Not long after its introduction, the Bank of Japan pegged the new currency to the gold standard to prevent depreciation, which remained the case until 1931.
During the U.S. occupation after World War II, the yen was pegged to the U.S. dollar, so that 1 USD equaled ¥360. This arrangement lasted until 1971.
2. Famous figures adorn the Japanese yen bills.
Like many banknotes around the world, each Japanese yen banknote depicts a major national figure. Among them, you’ll find:
- Hideyo Noguchi (1,000 yen): A prominent bacteriologist
- Ichiyo Higuchi (5,000 yen): A poet, novelist, and significant woman writer of her time
- Yukichi Fukuzawa (10,000 yen): An author, educator, and publisher who established a university and newspaper
3. JPY is the world’s third-most traded currency.
The yen is part of a small group of strong global currencies such as the U.S. dollar, the Swiss franc, and the British pound sterling. As of this writing, the yen is the third-most traded currency in the world after the United States dollar and the euro.
It’s also the most-traded currency in Asia, ahead of the Singapore dollar and Chinese yuan. This is largely due to Japan’s successful manufacturing sector and high-value exports, which makes it popular as a safe-haven currency for investors.
4. The word “yen” has a simple meaning.
The word “yen” translates to “round object” in English, which refers to the shape of the coins. In Japan, many people refer to yen as “okane,” the Japanese word for money.
5. The Japanese yen is one of the most secure forms of currency.
The yen is extremely difficult to counterfeit. Like many major currencies of the world, it uses a mix of the following security features:
- Ultra-fine line printing
- Luminescent ink
Yen notes and coins are nearly impossible to replicate outside official channels, so the risk of fraud and money laundering is low.
Exchanging and using Japanese yen
If you plan to move to Japan or visit Japan, you’ll have several options for paying for goods and services while you’re there.
Using cash is a universal and efficient way to pay, especially if you find yourself outside big cities like Tokyo or Osaka. It’s also an easy way to pay for low-cost services and items. Japanese merchants don’t accept foreign currency, so your dollars, pounds, or other currencies won’t work as legal tender in local shops.
To access cash, you can exchange your money at the airport or a post office. For better exchange rates, use an ATM. However, not all Japanese ATMs will accept foreign debit cards. For a safer bet, check out any of the country’s postal ATMs and 7-Bank ATMs (inside 7-11 convenience stores), both of which take foreign debit cards.
What about credit cards? If you travel with your Mastercard, Visa, or American Express card, you’ll be able to use it widely in Japan. Most stores in major cities such as Kobe, Yokohama, and Kyoto accept foreign credit cards.
While it may be convenient to pay with credit cards, some cards do charge high fees for international purchases. It’s best to give your bank a call to find out about any applicable fees in advance and to pay using the local currency when possible.
Understanding Japanese currency exchange rates
When using or sending money abroad, it’s important to keep exchange rates in mind.
Exchange rates vary based on multiple economic and political factors, from global trade to national elections to interest rates. For example, even though the Japanese yen is a strong currency, it’s less valuable compared to some currencies due to inflation.
You have many options for checking real-time exchange rates for the American dollar (USD), the Canadian dollar (CAD), the euro (EUR), the Australian dollar (AUD), the New Zealand Dollar (NZD), the British pound (GBP), and more.
You can find current exchange rates with an online currency converter or by checking with your bank or money transfer app of choice.
Check the current rates with Remitly in our app or on our website.
Sending money to Japan
If you’re interested in sending money to Japan from overseas, new technology makes it easier than ever. With international money transfer services like Remitly, you can safely and quickly send funds via a money transfer app. Traditional bank wires are another option, although typically a more expensive one.
Learn how to send money to Japan and find the current exchange rate information from Remitly. As a new customer, you’ll get a special offer on your first transfer.
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