Exchange Currency

Japanese yen

The Japanese yen is the official currency of Japan. It is the third most-traded currency in the foreign exchange market after the United States dollar and the euro. It is also widely used as a reserve currency after the U.S. dollar, the euro and the pound sterling. As is common when counting in East Asia, large quantities of yen are often counted in multiples of 10,000 in the same way as values in Western countries are often quoted in thousands.

Yen is pronounced "en" [eɴ] in Japanese. Originally, Chinese had traded silver in mass (see sycee) and when Spanish and Mexican silver coins arrived, they called them for their circular shapes. The coins and the name also appeared in Japan. Later, the Chinese replaced 圓 with 元 which has the same pronunciation in Mandarin (but not in Japanese).

The spelling and pronunciation "yen" is standard in English. This is because mainly English speakers who visited Japan at the end of the Edo period to the early Meiji period spelled words this way. Walter Henry Medhurst, who had not come to Japan and interviewed some Japanese in Batavia (Jakarta), spelled some "e"s as "ye" in his An English and Japanese, and Japanese and English Vocabulary (1830). In the early Meiji era, James Curtis Hepburn, following Medhurst, spelled all "e"s as "ye" in his A Japanese and English dictionary. That was the first full-scale Japanese English/English-Japanese dictionary, which had a strong influence on Westerners in Japan and probably prompted the spelling "yen". Hepburn revised most of "ye"s to "e" in the 3rd edition (1886) in order to mirror the contemporary pronunciation, except "yen". This was probably already fixed and has remained so ever since.

Summary info

Summary information about Japanese yen
ISO 4217 Code:
Currency sign:
sen, rin
1 yen, 5 yen, 10 yen, 50 yen, 100 yen, 500 yen
1000 yen, 2000 yen, 5000 yen, 10000 yen
Central bank:
Bank of Japan


In the 19th century silver Spanish dollar coins were prolific throughout South east Asia, the China coast, and Japan. These coins had been introduced through Manila over a period of two hundred and fifty years, arriving on ships from Acapulco in Mexico. These ships were known as the Manila galleons. Until the 19th century these silver dollar coins were actual Spanish dollars minted in the new world, mostly at Mexico City. But from the 1840s they were increasingly replaced by silver dollars of the new Latin American republics. In the latter half of the 19th century some local coins in the region were made in the likeness of the Mexican peso. The first of these local silver coins was the Hong Kong silver dollar coin that was minted in Hong Kong between the years 1866 and 1868. The Chinese were slow to accept unfamiliar coinage and preferred the familiar Mexican dollars, and so the Hong Kong government ceased minting these coins and sold the mint machinery to Japan.

The Japanese then decided to adopt a silver dollar coinage under the name of 'yen', meaning 'a round object'. The yen was officially adopted by the Meiji government in an Act signed on May 10, 1871.

The new currency was gradually introduced beginning from July of that year. The yen was therefore basically a dollar unit, like all dollars, descended from the Spanish Pieces of eight, and up until the year 1873, all the dollars in the world had more or less the same value. The yen replaced Tokugawa coinage, a complex monetary system of the Edo period based on the mon. The yen was legally defined as 0.78 troy ounces (24.26 g) of pure silver, or 1.5 grams of pure gold (as recommended by the European Congress of Economists in Paris in 1867; the 5-yen coin was equivalent to the Argentine 5 peso fuerte coin), hence putting it on a bimetallic standard. (The same amount of silver is worth about 1181 modern yen, while the same amount of gold is worth about 4715 yen.

Following the silver devaluation of 1873, the yen devalued against the US dollar and the Canadian dollar units since they adhered to a gold standard, and by the year 1897 the yen was worth only about US$0.50. In that year, Japan adopted a gold exchange standard and hence froze the value of the yen at $0.50. The sen and the rin were eventually taken out of circulation at the end of 1953.

The yen lost most of its value during and after World War II. After a period of instability, in 1949, the value of the yen was fixed at ¥360 per US$1 through a United States plan, which was part of the Bretton Woods System, to stabilize prices in the Japanese economy. That exchange rate was maintained until 1971, when the United States abandoned the gold standard, which had been a key element of the Bretton Woods System, and imposed a 10 percent surcharge on imports, setting in motion changes that eventually led to floating exchange rates in 1973. As of 2011, the yen has become much stronger and the USD to JPY ratio is about ¥80 to the dollar.

By 1971 the yen had become undervalued. Japanese exports were costing too little in international markets, and imports from abroad were costing the Japanese too much. This undervaluation was reflected in the current account balance, which had risen from the deficits of the early 1960s to a then-large surplus of US$5.8 billion in 1971. The belief that the yen, and several other major currencies, were undervalued motivated the United States' actions in 1971.

Following the United States' measures to devalue the dollar in the summer of 1971, the Japanese government agreed to a new, fixed exchange rate as part of the Smithsonian Agreement, signed at the end of the year. This agreement set the exchange rate at ¥308 per US$1. However, the new fixed rates of the Smithsonian Agreement were difficult to maintain in the face of supply and demand pressures in the foreign-exchange market. In early 1973, the rates were abandoned, and the major nations of the world allowed their currencies to float.

In the 1970s, Japanese government and business people were very concerned that a rise in the value of the yen would hurt export growth by making Japanese products less competitive and would damage the industrial base. The government therefore continued to intervene heavily in foreign-exchange marketing (buying or selling dollars), even after the 1973 decision to allow the yen to float. Despite intervention, market pressures caused the yen to continue climbing in value, peaking temporarily at an average of ¥271 per US$1 in 1973 before the impact of the 1973 oil crisis was felt. The increased costs of imported oil caused the yen to depreciate to a range of ¥290 to ¥300 between 1974 and 1976. The re-emergence of trade surpluses drove the yen back up to ¥211 in 1978. This currency strengthening was again reversed by the second oil shock in 1979, with the yen dropping to ¥227 by 1980.

During the first half of the 1980s, the yen failed to rise in value even though current account surpluses returned and grew quickly. From ¥221 in 1981, the average value of the yen actually dropped to ¥239 in 1985. The rise in the current account surplus generated stronger demand for yen in foreign-exchange markets, but this trade-related demand for yen was offset by other factors. A wide differential in interest rates, with United States interest rates much higher than those in Japan, and the continuing moves to deregulate the international flow of capital, led to a large net outflow of capital from Japan. This capital flow increased the supply of yen in foreign-exchange markets, as Japanese investors changed their yen for other currencies (mainly dollars) to invest overseas. This kept the yen weak relative to the dollar and fostered the rapid rise in the Japanese trade surplus that took place in the 1980s.

In 1985 a dramatic change began. Finance officials from major nations signed an agreement (the Plaza Accord) affirming that the dollar was overvalued (and, therefore, the yen undervalued). This agreement, and shifting supply and demand pressures in the markets, led to a rapid rise in the value of the yen. From its average of ¥239 per US$1 in 1985, the yen rose to a peak of ¥128 in 1988, virtually doubling its value relative to the dollar. After declining somewhat in 1989 and 1990, it reached a new high of ¥123 to US$1 in December 1992. In April 1995, the yen hit a peak of under 80 yen per dollar, temporarily making Japan's economy nearly the size of the US.

The yen declined during the Japanese asset price bubble and continued to do so afterwards, reaching a low of ¥134 to US$1 in February 2002. The Bank of Japan's policy of zero interest rates has discouraged yen investments, with the carry trade of investors borrowing yen and investing in better-paying currencies (thus further pushing down the yen) estimated to be as large as $1 trillion. In February 2007 The Economist estimated that the yen was 15% undervalued against the dollar, and as much as 40% undervalued against the euro. After the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami the yen reached a post-war record of 76 yen per dollar.


Coins were introduced in 1870. There were silver 5, 10, 20 and 50 sen and 1 yen, and gold 2, 5, 10 and 20 yen. Gold 1 yen were introduced in 1871, followed by copper 1 rin, ½, 1 and 2 sen in 1873. Cupronickel 5 sen coins were introduced in 1889. In 1897, the silver 1 yen coin was demonetized and the sizes of the gold coins were reduced by 50%, with 5, 10 and 20 yen coins issued. In 1920, cupro-nickel 10 sen coins were introduced.

Early 1 yen silver coin, 26.96 grams of .900 pure silver, Japan, minted in 1901 (Year 34 of the Meiji period). Production of silver coins ceased in 1938, after which a variety of base metals were used to produce 1, 5 and 10 sen coins during the Second World War. Clay 5 and 10 yen coins were produced in 1945 but not issued for circulation.

Japanese 10 yen coin (obverse) showing Phoenix Hall of Byōdō-in After the war, brass 50 yen, 1 and 5 yen were introduced between 1946 and 1948. In 1949, the current type of holed 5 yen was introduced, followed by bronze 10 yen (of the type still in circulation) in 1951.

Coins in denominations of less than 1 yen became invalid on December 31, 1953, following enforcement of the Small Currency Disposition and Fractional Rounding in Payments Act. In 1955 the current type of aluminium 1 yen was introduced, along with unholed, nickel 50 yen. In 1957, silver 100 yen pieces were introduced. These were replaced in 1967 by the current, cupro-nickel type, along with the holed 50 yen coin. In 1982 the first 500 yen coins were introduced.

The date (expressed as the year in the reign of the emperor at the time the coin was stamped) is on the reverse of all coins, and, in most cases, country name and the value in kanji is on the obverse, except for the present 5-yen coin where the country name is on the reverse. As of April 2011 the 500 yen coin was the highest-valued coin to be used regularly in the world (depending on exchange rates, the rarely-used 5 Cuban convertible peso coin is sometimes the highest-valued), with value of over US$6. Because of this high face value, the 500 yen has been a favorite target for counterfeiters; it was counterfeited to such an extent that in 2000 a new series of coins was issued with various security features, but counterfeiting continued. The 1 yen coin is made out of 100% aluminum.

On various occasions, commemorative coins are minted, often using gold and silver with face values as high as 100,000 yen. The first of these were silver ¥100 and ¥1000 Summer Olympic coins issued for the 1964 games. Recently this practice is undertaken with the 500 yen coin, first in commemoration of the Nagano Olympic games in 1998, and then the Aichi Expo in 2005. The current commemorative 500 and 1000 yen coin series began circulation in December, 2009, with 47 unique designs for each with only one available from banks in each prefecture. 100000 of each have been minted and they are all currently (as of October, 2010) still available in major banks at face value. Someone collecting one of each coin would need to invest 70500 yen, thus creating a major source of income for the Japanese government. Even though all commemorative coins can be used, they are not seen often in typical daily use and normally do not circulate.


The issuance of the yen banknotes began in 1872, two years after the currency was introduced. Throughout its history, the denominations have ranged from 10 yen to 10000 yen.

Before and during World War II, various bodies issued banknotes in yen, such as the Ministry of Finance and the Imperial Japanese National Bank. The Allied forces also issued some notes shortly after the war. Since then, the Bank of Japan has been the exclusive note issuing authority. The bank has issued five series after World War II. Series E, the current series, consists of ¥1000, ¥2000, ¥5000 and ¥10,000.

JPY banknotes pictures gallery

1000 Japanese yen
Banknote of 1000 Japanese yen has dimensions 76×150 mm and main colors are ash grey, khaki, tan, wheat and pale spring bud. Date of issue of 1000 Japanese yen banknote was November 1, 2004.
1000 Japanese yen (Obverse)
Obverse side of the 1000 Japanese yen is showing the portrait of Hideyo Noguchi (Japanese scientist, microbiologist).
1000 Japanese yen (Reverse)
Reverse side of the 1000 Japanese yen is showing the Mount Fuji and the Japanese cherry flowers.

2000 Japanese yen
Banknote of 2000 Japanese yen has dimensions 76×154 mm and main colors are feldgrau, desert sand, tan and almond. Date of issue of 2000 Japanese yen banknote was July 19, 2000.
2000 Japanese yen (Obverse)
Obverse side of the 2000 Japanese yen is showing the Gates Shurey in Okinawa.
2000 Japanese yen (Reverse)
Reverse side of the 2000 Japanese yen is showing the portrait of Murasaki Shikibu (writer and author of "Genji Monogatari") and an art scene from this product.

5000 Japanese yen
Banknote of 5000 Japanese yen has dimensions 76×156 mm and main colors are purple taupe, cinereous, grullo and pale chestnut. Date of issue of 5000 Japanese yen banknote was November 1, 2004.
5000 Japanese yen (Obverse)
Obverse side of the 5000 Japanese yen is showing the portrait of Ichiyo Higuchi (Japanese writer).
5000 Japanese yen (Reverse)
Reverse side of the 5000 Japanese yen is showing the painting "Irises" by Japanese artist Korin Ogata.

10000 Japanese yen
Banknote of 10000 Japanese yen has dimensions 76×160 mm and main colors are pastel brown, sand, banana mania and khaki. Date of issue of 10000 Japanese yen banknote was November 1, 2004.
10000 Japanese yen (Obverse)
Obverse side of the 10000 Japanese yen is showing the portrait of Fukuzawa Yukichi (Japanese author, translator and philosopher).
10000 Japanese yen (Reverse)
Reverse side of the 10000 Japanese yen is showing the statue of a phoenix in a Buddhist temple Byodo-in.

Useful links

About Bank of Japan:
Bank of Japan
List of currencies:
Security and design features of JPY banknotes:
JPY banknotes
JPY currency on Wikipedia:
Japanese yen
Official Website of Bank of Japan:
Commemorative coins:
Commemorative Coins