Today’s lesson is all about Japanese money! It’s one of the most important things you’ll need to get the hang of, especially if you’re currently living in Japan or considering making the move!
And so this bit covers from how to say “money” in Japanese to counting Japanese yen. With that said, buckle up, grab your thinking caps, and let’s get learning!
“Money” in Japanese
First things first – what is the word for money in Japanese anyway? The standard term for money in Japanese is おかね (okane | お金). The kanji character seen here, 金 (kane), is a direct derivative of the Chinese equivalent and represents money, gold, or finance in general.
Another reading for this character is きん (kin), which on its own is actually how to say “gold” in Japanese! More broadly, this character can represent metal in general.
You’ll notice the お (o) that precedes the 金 (kane) in this word. This お (o) is indeed the honorific お (o) often found at the beginning of words to make them more gentle and polite. While usually, this お (o) can be dropped, it’s almost never the case with this word, so just remember おかね (okane | お金) as it is!
“Currency” in Japan
The Japanese currency is known as えん (en｜円). This may come as a surprise since most are familiar with the native currency of Japan as being Yen with a “y.” The truth is that the pronunciation of the Japanese currency is, in fact, “en”!
The cause of this confusion is due to a somewhat complicated history between the Portuguese, British and a common case of mispronunciation.
The global symbol for the Japanese Yen is ￥ (another Y). It’s what you’ll find when you exchange currency and within financial markets and banks. However, another symbol is used entirely to represent Japanese currency in the homeland!
The Japanese Yen is written as 円 (for example, 300円 = 300 Yen). This character, also used to represent currency in China, also carries the meaning of round. That’s probably because of the fact that all currency (in China and Japan) in the past was a round coin.
Currently, the Japanese Yen is one of the top most globally exchanged currencies on the global market.
List of bills used in Japan
The Japanese word for “bill” is おさつ (osatsu | お札) or ビル (biru).
The denominations of money in Japan are quite large when compared to the USD or EUR, but that means very little as far as fiscal power is concerned. Here is a list of Japanese 円 bills!
- 1000￥- せんえん・いっせんえん (sen en/issen en | 一千円). This bill has blue as its main color and observes Hideyo Noguchi, a renowned bacteriologist. The reverse honors Sakura Blossoms, Lake Motosu, and Mt. Fuji.
- 2000￥ – にせんえん (ni sen en | 二千円). This 2,000 yen bill has green as its main color and observes Shuriemon, the gate of an Okinawa castle. Its reverse honors The Tale of Genji (the first novel ever written) and her author, Murasaki Shikibu. This bill was printed for a span of only about 3 years and thus is rarely seen or used.
- 5000￥- ごせんえん (go sen en | 五千円). This bill has purple as its main color and observes Ichiyou Higuchi, a famous Japanese female writer. The reverse features the work of Japan’s well-known artist Ogata Kourin.
- 10000￥- いちまんえん (ichi man en | 一万円). This bill features Fukuzawa Yukichi, an educator, philosopher, and Keio University’s founder. The reverse features the statue of a Buddhist phoenix found in a temple in Uji in the Kyoto Prefecture.
The banknotes for Japanese bills are sized a bit larger than American dollars. Also, the Japanese are known for keeping their money (and pretty much everything else) neat, uncrumpled, and almost always inside a wallet!
For reference, at the time of this article, 1 USD equals about 135 JPY
Fun Fact: Starting at the beginning of 2024, a new series of banknotes is said to be commissioned for use within Japan with new designs, colors, and images!
List of coins used in Japan
Today in Japan, most Japanese people will understand the Katakana word コイン (koin) as it is sometimes used, like in the word コインランドリー (koin randorii). The native term for coin in Japanese is こうか (kouka | 硬貨), but it’s not all that popular.
The front of each coin has only the number value on it, while the backs vary slightly. Here is a list of all yen coins in Japan!
- 500￥- ごひゃくえん (go hyaku en | 五百円). This is the largest-valued coin in Japan and is gold in color. The backside pictures a version of the paulownia tree.
- 100￥ – ひゃくえん (hyaku en | 百円). This is a silver coin that features the Cherry Blossoms, Japan’s national flower, on its back.
- 50￥- ごじゅうえん (go juu en | 五十円). This is a silver coin, slightly smaller than the 100￥coin, with a hole in its center. The back depicts a chrysanthemum flower.
- 10￥ – じゅうえん (juu en | 十円). This is a copper coin with the Pheonix Hall of Temple Byoudou In on its back
- 5￥- ごえん (go en | 五円). This yellowish copper coin shows an ear of rice growing out of the water on its front and just numbers on its back. There is a hole in its center. It’s the only coin out of the bunch with a numerical value represented in kanji instead of Arabic numerals!
One reason for this is perhaps the same reason why this coin is known as a lucky coin: 五円 (goen) carries the same pronunciation as ご縁 (goen), which equates to something like luck. For this reason, this coin is brought to temples in Japan and offered for good fortune!
- 1 ￥- Pronounce いちえん (ichi en | 一円). This solid aluminum coin, with a young tree design on the back, can be quite a pain in the real world. The coin is often given as change when it is necessary, but since its value is so low, many places don’t accept these coins from you!
It’s definitely something to keep in mind when walking around with your spare change in Japan!
Counting Japanese Money
The way to count money in Japanese is effectively the way to count numbers in general in Japanese, except that the 円 (en) is added to the end of the numbers. Thus, this is effectively a mini-lesson on Japanese numbers, which can be tricky even for long-term students!
Although we don’t cover all numbers here, we cover the more peculiar stuff. Here is a quick list of the most important numbers in Japanese.
1 ichi いち 一
2 ni に 二
3 san さん 三
4 yon/shi よん・し 四
5 go ご 五
6 roku ろく 六
7 nana/shichi なな・しち 七
8 hachi はち 八
9 kyuu きゅう 九
10 juu じゅう 十
20 ni juu にじゅう 二十
50 go juu ごじゅう 五十
99 kyuu juu kyuu きゅうじゅうきゅう 九十九
100 hyaku ひゃく 百
1000 sen せん 千
10000 man まん 万
10000 juu man じゅうまん 十万
100000 hyaku man ひゃくまん 百万
100000000 oku おく 億
What to remember when counting Japanese money
Want to expand your knowledge of Japanese numbers? We have an article dedicated to teaching you all about Japanese Numbers. In the meantime, here are some important things to keep in mind when counting Japanese money:
- Numbers can be written vertically – Remember that there are two writing formats in Japanese – horizontal and vertical writing. Horizontal text is read from left to right, while vertical text is read top-down. Numbers are no exception to this rule!
- The special 1, 3, 6, and 8 – The highest value you’re likely to find when counting Japan’s money is まん (man | 万). Most people never make it to おく (oku | 億)! Under these two are ひゃく (hyaku | 百) and せん (sen | 千), and here is where we have a few exceptions with pronunciation:
When saying 1 sen in Japanese, the normal sound of 1 gets shortened:
いち –> いっ
3 hyaku and 3 sen are read as 3 byaku and 3 zen:
三百＝さんびゃく (san byaku)
三千＝さんぜん (san zen)
6 hyaku is read as 6 ppyaku, with a shortened pronunciation for 6:
8 hyaku and 8 sen are read as 8 ppyaku and 8 ssen, with a shortened pronunciation for 8:
There are more examples below to see these numbers in action!
- For the number 4, only the reading of よん(yon) is used when counting numbers:
40 = よんじゅう (yon juu)
402 = よんひゃくに (yon hyaku ni)
4186 = よんせんひゃくはちじゅうろく (yon sen hyaku hachi juu roku)
The reading of し (shi) is sometimes used to represent the number 4 all on its own or in tandem with other kanji.
このゲイムはいくらですか (kono geimu wa ikura desu ka)
How much does this game cost?
よんせんはっぴゃくじゅうえんです (yon sen happyaku juu en desu | 四千八百十円です)
It’s 4,810 Yen
いえになんにんいましたか (ie ni nannin imashita ka | 家に何人いましたか)
How many people were in the house?
きゅうにんいましたよ (kyuunin imashita yo | 九人いましたよ)
There were nine people.
きょねんのふゆにはくちょうがさんぜんわきたにいどうされました (kyonen no fuyu ni hakuchou ga sanzenwa kita ni idousaremashita | 去年の冬に白鳥が三千羽北に移動されました)
3,000 swans have migrated north last Winter.
Most Common Payment Methods in Japan
Japan is very much still a cash-based society, in likeness to its old-timey ways. Although that’s changing by the day, you can expect to rely pretty heavily on cash and coin when you’re there. This is especially true for things like taxi services or when paying at shrines or temples.
Also, smaller and more rural towns/villages are less likely to be up to date with the times, so you will need cash payments in such places.
- ATM Card
We’re talking about all major credit and debit cards here. Japan is one of the most technologically advanced countries on the planet, so it’s no surprise that cards are widely accepted just like most everywhere else. The usual things like restaurant bills, department store purchases, train station tickets, etc., can all be purchased using a card.
- IC Cards
These cards are effectively store-valued cards used for public transportation. They can be reloaded and function as most metropolitan fare cards do. If you intend on visiting Japan, train and bus transportation are huge, so find out which IC card will work best for you!
Aside from these 3, several mobile and domestic payment services are available and accepted, but they’re only really geared toward locals. You also have international stuff like Alipay and WeChat for payments.
Moreover, most phones purchased outside of Japan won’t be compatible with GooglePay – beware! Though many stores started accepting different kinds of payment methods, it’s always wise to have cash with you.
Exchanging currency in Japan
Foreign currencies aren’t really accepted in Japan, so you’ll need to exchange some for your trip. If you’re coming from a different country, it might be better to exchange your money before you arrive in Japan. But, if you miss the chance to do so, you can exchange your money at the airport so you already have your own yen before leaving.
Theft isn’t really an issue in Japan, which means you can feel comfortable carrying large amounts of cash (though it’s still better to stay vigilant and aware of your surroundings).
Learning about the Japanese yen is important when visiting Japan. Not only will it help you move around the country easily, but it can also help you avoid spending too much. Knowing about the currency, exchange rates, and different types of bills and yen coins can help you pay without problems.
Sure, learning about currencies isn’t fairly simple, but it will be worth it in the near future when you visit Japan!
がんばってください (Ganbatte kudasai)! ^^