Despite growth of credit card and e-money use in Japan, you will still find yourself paying by cash in some occasions in your day to day life. It's surprising to many that there are still some restaurants and stores which will not accept credit cards as a form of payment. Japanese currency is quite easy to use once you get used to it.
Here is what you need to know about the official currency of Japan and how to use it.
In Japan the currency is called Yen and is written with the symbols ￥, 円, or JPY.
Japan's banknotes are issued in 4 amounts: ￥1,000 / ￥2,000 / ￥5,000 / ￥10,000
The coins used for currency are separated into 6 different amounts: ￥1 / ￥5 / ￥10 / ￥50 / ￥100 / ￥500
The most common banknotes you will see in Japan are the ￥10,000, ￥5,000, and ￥1,000 paper bills. In rare cases you may even come across a ￥2,000 paper bill. One of the things that seems to surprise many visitors of Japan is that Japanese paper bills are usually in good condition, this is in part due to banks replacing old banknotes with new ones.
This is the maximum amount that paper currency in Japan is available.
The front of this bill features an image of a samurai named Yukichi Fukuzawa (1835 - 1901) who was known as an intellectual and an educator. One of the top Universities in Japan, Keio University, was founded by Yukichi Fukuzawa. He wrote one of his most famous books "Gakumon no susume" (An Encouragement of Learning) in 1872.
The backside of the bill has a picture of the ho-o phoenix (fictional beast) statue from the Byodo-in temple located in Uji, near Kyoto. The ho-o phoenix is said to bring fortune and happiness to people.
Larger banknotes like this ￥10,000 yen bill are not accepted by most vending machines or when paying for parking. They are however accepted by machines that allow you to purchasing train tickets or train passes (SUICA or PASMO) since people commonly take the train long distances and sometimes charge their train passes for use as pre-paid cards. Please be aware that when you take the taxi for short distances, the taxi driver might not be able to make change so please try to use a lower value bill when paying.
The front of the ￥5,000 bill has an image of Ichiyo Higuchi (1872- 1896) from Meiji Era. Ichiyo Higuchi is known as Japan's first prominent female writer. Although she passed away at the young age of 24, her works had a large impact on Japanese literature and are still well respected to this day.
The backside of this bill has Japanese Irises from the painting "Kakitsubata" by Ogata Korin (1658 - 1716) which is considered a national treasure.
Like the ￥10,000 mentioned above, the ￥5,000 yen bill are not accepted in most vending machines or when paying for parking, but are accepted when purchasing train tickets or train passes (SUICA or PASMO).
The ￥2,000 bill was issued in the year 2000 to commemorate the 26th G8 Summit and the new millennium. This paper bill is quite rare to find.
On the front of the bill is a picture of Shureimon, a 16th century gate at Shuri Castle in Okinawa Prefecture. The backside depicts a scene from "Suzumushi" a chapter in "Tale of Genji" written by Murasaki Shikibu.
As this bill is rare, many vending machines will not accept this bill.
The front of the ￥1,000 has a portrait of Hideyo Noguchi (1876 - 1928), a bacteriologist who discovered the agent of syphilis as the cause of progressive paralytic disease in 1911. He was nominated for Nobel Prize on multiple occasions but died in West Africa from Yellow fever before he was able to win one.
The backside of this bill has an image of Mt.Fuji (from a photo taken by Kouyo Okada from Niigata prefecture) known as "Upside-down Fuji" because of the perfect reflection of Mt. Fuji on the lake due to lack of wind.
This is the most common bill used in Japan. Due to its heavy daily use, this bill is made slightly thicker than other bills to increase its durability.
This largest demonination coins in Japan are available in. The front of this coin is engraved with an image of the Paulownia flower (Kiri). Along the top of the coin is written "State of Japan" and at the bottom is "500 yen". Bamboo is graved on the back of the coin. In Japan, bamboo represents strength and flexibility. Some restaurants may have promotion that says "one coin" lunches, which means that the lunch only costs 500 yen.
This is the coin used most in Japan. On the front side of the coin is the image of a Cherry blossom. 100 yen coins come in handy when purchasing items from a vending machine or when paying to ride the bus.
This coin has a hole in the middle with chrysanthemum engraved on the front side. The backside is engraved with the number 50 and the year the coin was manufactured.
The front of this brown coin is engraved with the image of the Byoudoin. Byodo-in is recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural heritage. This is the lowest value of coin that can be used for purchasing items from a vending machine.
This coin also has a hole in the middle. Please keep in mind that this coin cannot be used for vending machines. The front of the coin features and image of a rice plant growing out of the water. The gear around the hole represents industry. The back side is engraved with 2 seed leaves. This coin is called "goen" in Japanese. "Goen" can also mean "fate". This positive coin is used to make the money offering for shrines into the offertory box.
This coin is made out of aluminum and this is the lightest in weight. The front side has an image of a "Wakagi" in the middle which means a young tree in Japanese. This coin also cannot be used for vending machines.
Tipping is not a common practice in Japan. If you try to give any tips, it will most likely be politely refused. A service charge (10 - 15%) is often be included in your bill.
However, in Japan there is a sort of tipping called "Kokorozuke". When people go to the same restaurant regularly or know the owner, or when they receive a special service, they sometimes give Kokorozuke. It also happens quite often that people leave the change when they take a taxi.
Example: At restaurant
If you leave a tip on the table, the waiter might come chasing after you thinking that you forgot your money on the table.
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