In 1871—the same year that the Japanese mint was founded in Osaka—the Meiji government officially adopted the yen as Japan’s currency, and since then the yen has remained its primary form of money.
The yen, which means "round object" or "circle" in Japanese, comes in four denominations of bills while coins come in six denominations. Bills come in 10,000 yen, 5,000 yen, 2,000 yen, and 1,000 yen quantities while coins come in 500 yen, 100 yen, 50 yen, 10 yen, 5 yen, and 1 yen, and all bills and coins are different sizes with larger amounts correlating to larger sizes.
If you're planning to travel to Japan, you'll need to understand the basics of the Japanese yen in order to properly make purchases including paying for your meals and accommodations, shopping in one of the many commercial districts of the country, or even paying for your cabs and services in Japan's many cities.
Japanese Money Tips for Travelers
In Japan, traveler's checks and some foreign currencies can be used at most large hotels and duty-free shops; however, most businesses only accept the yen. It's always good to have some local currency, so exchange your money at the airport, post office, or authorized foreign exchange bank before you start your Japanese adventure for the best results.
Japan is mostly cash-only, but that’s changing; however, it’s still best to have cash when traveling to small cities and rural areas. It’s also preferred to use cash if the price is a small amount so you’ll want to have small denominations for taxis, tourist attractions, small restaurants, and shops. Coins are great to have on hand for travel lockers, public transportation, and vending machines.
Don’t rely on ATMs because they usually don’t accept foreign cards and might be closed at night or on the weekend; however, you might have luck at ATMs in 7-Eleven stores and post offices or other international establishments that are specifically programmed to accommodate foreign visitors.
In big cities, credit and debit cards are accepted at many hotels, small stores, grocery stores, restaurants, train stations, and convenience stores while IC cards, which can have value added to them, are convenient for public transportation fares, lockers, and vending machines.
Characteristics of Japanese Coins and Bills
Coins were first made in Japan in 1870, and since then they have featured images such as flowers, trees, temples, and rice. Unlike many coins worldwide, Japanese coins are stamped with the year of the current emperor’s reign rather than a year based on the Gregorian calendar.
Coins have been made of nickel, cupro-nickel, bronze, brass, and aluminum, although the one yen coin is entirely made of aluminum so that it can float on water.
Banknotes were first made in 1872, two years after coins were first minted. They feature images of Mount Fuji, Lake Motosu, flowers, and many animals such as lions, horses, chickens, and mice. Japanese bank notes are some of the world’s most difficult bills to counterfeit. For more information about the yen bills and coins, visit Japan Mint and National Printing Bureau.