The yen (en) was established as the official unit of currency in 1871. The name en was used because it means round, as opposed to the oblong shape of previous coinage. One hundredth of a yen is called a sen, although this unit is so small that it is only mentioned today in the financial markets. The Bank of Japan, established in 1882, issued its first bank notes in 1885. At various times during its history, the yen has been pegged to the silver standard, the gold standard and the US dollar. From 1949 to 1971 the rate was 360 yen to the dollar, which was then changed to 308 yen to the dollar. This rate held for two years but problems with US trade imbalances led to the devaluation of the dollar against gold. In 1973, the yen, along with other major currencies, moved to a floating exchange rate system. In the 1980's and 90's, the yen became increasingly used in international financial transactions and continued a steady climb against the dollar. It reached a peak rate of around 80 yen to the dollar in 1994, fell to around 108 yen in 1999 and has fluctuated around the 110-120 yen level for the last few years.
Over the years, there have been proposals to denominate the yen by making it equal to the current 100 yen. The latest proposal came in late 1999, as fears grew that the dollar and the euro would overshadow the yen unless it was denominated to an equivalent value.
The Japanese government announced in October 1999 plans to issue a 2,000 yen note in time to commemorate the G8 summit to be held in Okinawa the following year. The new note was expected to give a boost to the economy, but it ended up barely making an impression. In fact, 2,000 yen notes are a rare sight today.
In 2002, a redesign of bank notes was announced, with new people appearing on the 1,000 and 5,000 yen notes. The redesign was to allow for the use of the latest anti-conterfeiting techniques. The redesigned notes appeared on November 1, 2004.
Bank Notes (the red characters mean 'sample')
The ¥1,000 (sen-en) note features the writer Natsume Soseki (1867~1916)
The ¥5,000 (go-sen) yen note features Meiji/Taisho Period educator Nitobe Inazo (1862~1933)
The ¥10,000 (man-en) note features the Meiji Period educator Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835~1901)
The ¥2,000 (nisen-en) note features Shureimon, the gate of Shuri Castle in Okinawa Prefecture. The note was issued to commemorate the G8 summit in Okinawa in July 2000.
New ¥1,000, ¥5,000 and ¥10,000 notes were issued in November, 2004. The old notes (left) will remain in circulation for about two years. The ¥1,000 note features world-renowned bacteriologist Noguchi Hideyo; the ¥5,000 note has Higuchi Ichiyo, one of Japan's earliest feminist novelists (below); the ¥10,000 notes keeps Fukuzawa Yukichi. All three notes incorporate the latest in anti-forgery design.
New 5,000-yen note
The 500, 100 and 50 yen coins are made of nickel, the 10 yen of bronze, the 5 yen of copper and the 1 yen of aluminium. With holes through the center, the 50 yen and more often the 5 yen coin are considered lucky and often used in charms.
|Typical commodity prices
These prices were first posted here in October 1999, but have hardly needed to be updated as of October 2007. Some prices are approximate
|3-minute telephone call||8.5||Canned drink (330ml)||110|
|Minimum train fare (JR lines)||120||1-bedroom apartment (Tokyo)||90,000/m|
|Video rental||300||Imported music CD||1,900|
|Lunch set||750||Domestic mail (letter)||80|
|Bottle of beer (330ml - store)||250||Expressway toll (Tokyo-Osaka)||11,150|
|Pint of Guinness (bar)||900||Economy flight to Korea (return)||23,000|
|Man's wool suit||50,000||Gasoline (1 liter)||145|
|Movie ticket||1,800||Haircut (lady's)||6,000|
|1-hour private English lesson||3,000||Viewing this Web site||0|
- Of the above prices, the only ones that have really changed in the last decade are gasoline (which has increased) and the amount an English teacher can typically charge for a 1-hour private lesson, which has dropped from about ¥5,000 to around ¥3,000.
- There is a 5 percent sales tax (shohizei) levied on most products, although there are forces lobbying for it to be reduced back to the previous rrate of 3 percent.
- A ¥200 or ¥300 saving can be made on movie tickets by buying advance tickets (mae-uriken) from a Ticket Saison, PIA or Playguide outlet.
- Discounts on train travel are rare but during certain periods of the year, discount Seishun-juhachi tickets are available from JR. These tickets, sold in threes for around ¥9,600 each, can be used for unlimited travel for one day, except on bullet trains and rapid express trains. Foreign visitors to Japan should definitely consider buying the Japan Rail Pass, available for 1, 2 or 3 weeks, which must be bought outside Japan.
- Tipping is not expected in Japanese restaurants or bars. Hotels usually have a service charge of 10 percent.
- The taxi business has become more competitive recently but the standard fare is ¥600-700 for the first 2 kilometers plus incremental charges after that. Fares become significantly higher after 11pm. Note that the rear passenger door opens and closes automatically!
- Most bars (with the exception of Western-style pubs) have a tab system. The bill is paid when you leave.
- There is a ¥2,000 'departure tax' (though not actually a tax) when departing from Narita Airport. This is sometimes but not always included in the price of tickets bought in Japan.