You made it to Japan and you’ve successfully managed to exchange money…what you are now holding are Japanese Yen.  Japanese yen are the national currency of Japan.  If you’re staying in Japan for a while get used to seeing these bills and coins because they will become a part of your daily life.


As with any currency, the Japanese Yen is divided into several different values, which makes the monetary system easy and convenient to use.  These denominations can and have changed over time.  We will focus on the values that you will see most often.

The Coins

Let’s look at the coins first: there is a 1-yen coin, a 5-yen coin, a 10-yen coin, a 100-yen coin, a 500-yen coin. What’s on the coins? Each coin has the value written in kanji on one side, and the year the coin was printed on the other.

Yen Coins (Front)

Yen Coins (Back)

The Bills

The Japanese bank notes have the face of a renowned Japanese figure on the front, along with the amount written in kanji and numerically. 1,000 yen or “sen-en,” 5,000 yen or “go-sen-en” and 10,000 or “ichiman-en.” There is a shiny seal on the bottom left front of the 5,000 and 10,000 yen bills (the 1,000 yen not doesn’t have it). The oval in the center of the notes possess a watermark. When you hold the bill up to the light, you can see the same face of the historical figure that’s on the front of the bill.

Yen Bills (Front)

Yen Bills (Back)


As far as bills go, there is a 1000-yen bill, a 5000-yen bill, and 10,000-yen bill.  There was a 2,000-yen bill and perhaps you can get them from a bank, but I’m not sure.  It’s much like the $2 bill in the United States, few people have them but you may still be able to get them from your bank.  So who’s on the front of these bills.  Currently, Noguchi Hideyo (family name is listed first) is on the 1000-yen bank note.  In the U.S., our banknotes have pictures of presidents on the obverse sides of the bills.  In this case, Noguchi wasn’t a politician, but a prominent, Japanese bacteriologist.  Pretty neat, huh?

Who’s on the 5000-yen note?

Currently, Higuchi Ichiyo (again family name first) is on the 5000-yen bank note. Higuchi was renowned for her writing and poetry during the late 1800s. Although Ichiyo is the name that appears on the bank note itself, “Ichiyo” was actually a pen name that Higuchi Natsuko used for her writing.

Who’s on the 10,000-yen note?

Fukuzawa Yukichi is on the 10,000-yen bank note. No, Fukuzawa wasn’t a Japanese politician either. Yukichi was a number of things, a writer, a translator, and a businessman, among other things. However his most well-known accomplishment was the founding on Keio University, which is located in Tokyo.

There is so much that I could talk about when it comes to the Japanese Yen, and as I learn more, I will.

Thanks for reading,

Donald Ash


About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

  • Ronnie says:

    I have a 1000 what is it worth in American dollars?

  • Trowlz says:

    I have a quick question, i’ll be going to japan soon and am looking into passport wallets? Do you have any you suggest? I hear if i’m teaching English i’ll need my passport with me all of the time, also reading this i’m guessing i’ll be using a lot of coins over bills for the day to day, do you suggest getting a wallet or coin purse, etc?

  • eurofederal says:

    When I was in Japan last year I was handed a ¥ 2000 note and I kept it:) It looks different. I think that it would be Wise to have a ¥ 500 note since the smallest note is ¥ 1000 which is roughly $10 or € 9,-….Life in Japan is not cheap but very similar to the USA or the EU.

  • donna murphy says:

    I have a 5000 yen bill. What is it worth in American money? The letters and numbers are FG112899M There is a mam with glasses on the front and a smaller is on the back. The back, there are two words up at the top, NIPPON GINKO. Thank you.

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