Frequently Asked Questions on Banknotes

Portrait

Was Meiji-era poet/novelist Ichiyo Higuchi the first woman to feature as a portrait on a Japanese banknote?

Higuchi was indeed the first female to feature as a portrait on a Bank of Japan note.
However, a portrait of Empress Jingu appeared on government notes issued in the Meiji era. An image of poet/novelist Murasaki Shikibu also appears on the reverse of the 2,000 yen note, but this is not a portrait.

How are portraits for banknotes chosen?

Essentially, the Minister of Finance is in principle tasked with deciding on portraits after discussions with the Ministry of Finance (which oversees currency administration), the Bank of Japan (the nation's banknote issuer) and the National Printing Bureau (the nation's banknote manufacturer).
There is no fixed process for choosing portraits for banknotes, but in general, they are selected for the following reasons.

  • The person is someone who the Japanese can feel proud of, and who is generally well known, such as someone who is often depicted in school textbooks.
  • To assist with anti-counterfeit measures, highly detailed photos or drawings of the person are available for use.

Based on this reasoning, the portraits used on current banknotes have been chosen from amongst famous cultural figures from the Meiji period and after.
The design of the banknote, including the portrait, is determined by the Minister of Finance in accordance to the Bank of Japan Act.

Of the banknotes that are currently in circulation, the Minister of Finance explained at the time of its design change that "Hideyo Noguchi was chosen to represent Japan as a country that continues to contribute to the world with outstanding science and technology, and Ichiyo Higuchi was chosen to represent a new trend in our world, such as the enhancement of the status of women in Japan and the advancement of a gender-equal society."

The reason why portraits are used in the design of banknotes is because the human eye has the ability to catch the slightest difference in a face or facial expression.

Are banknote portraits always located on the right?

Although there is no rule stipulating that portraits should appear on the right, they generally do. However, the otsu-series 10 yen convertible Bank of Japan note issued in 1915 (Taisho 4) had a portrait of Wake-no-Kiyomaro on the left.

How many people have appeared as portraits on banknotes?

The redesigned 1-yen note issued in 1881 (Meiji 14) was the first Japanese note to bear a portrait. Since then, the following 17 people have appeared on Japanese banknotes, including the current ones issued in November 2004 (Heisei 16):

  • Empress Jingu
  • Taisuke Itagaki
  • Sugawara-no-Michizane
  • Wake-no-Kiyomaro
  • Takenouchi-no-Sukune
  • Fujiwara-no-Kamatari
  • Prince Shotoku
  • Prince Yamatotakeru
  • Sontoku Ninomiya
  • Tomomi Iwakura
  • Korekiyo Takahashi
  • Hirobumi Ito
  • Yukichi Fukuzawa
  • Inazo Nitobe
  • Soseki Natsume
  • Hideyo Noguchi
  • Ichiyo Higuchi

Whose portrait has appeared most frequently on Japanese banknotes?

Prince Shotoku has appeared on the following seven different banknotes

  • Series-乙 (otsu) 100 yen note (issued in 1930 (Showa 5))
  • Series-い (i) 100 yen note (issued in 1944 (Showa 19))
  • Series-ろ (ro) 100 yen note (issued in 1945 (Showa 20))
  • Series-A 100 yen note (issued in 1946 (Showa 21))
  • Series-B 1,000 yen note (issued in 1950 (Showa 25))
  • Series-C 5,000 yen note (issued in 1957 (Showa 32))
  • Series-C 10,000 yen note (issued in 1958 (Showa 33))

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Serial Numbers

What is the combination of letters and numbers on the front of the notes?

The combination of letters and numbers at top left and bottom right on the front of a banknote is called the serial number. It is the unique number of that banknote; all banknotes of the same denomination are printed with a different serial number.

How many banknote serial numbers are there?

The serial number of the banknote starts with a combination of "1 letter + 6-digit number + 1 letter."

When all possible combinations of the above have been used, it moves on next to a combination of "2 letters + 6-digit number + 1 letter."

Since the letters "I" and "O" are similar to the numbers "1" and "0," these letters are not used. Numbers from 000001 to 900000 are used.

In other words, the total number of serial numbers would be
(24 letters x 900000 x 24 letters)
+ (24 letters x 24 letters x 900000 x 24 letters) = 12.96 billion variations.

When all of the possible serial numbers have been used, it starts again from the beginning in a different color.

Why do banknotes have an insignia (additional name) such as "Series -甲 (kou) ○ yen note,"
"Series-い(i) ○ yen note" and "Series-A ○ yen note"?

Due to the large number of banknotes issued since the Meiji Era, the following insignias are assigned to each banknote series to support classification/organization and prevent confusion:

From the middle of the Meiji Era to around 1936: 甲 (kou), 乙 (otsu), 丙 (hei),丁 (tei)
From around 1937 to 1945: い (i), ろ (ro), は (ha)
Since 1946 (Showa 21):A, B, C, D, E

Currently issued banknotes are the fifth set of banknotes to be issued since 1946 (Showa 21) so they are called "Series-E notes."

Why do banknote serial numbers have different colors?

Serial numbers are printed in different colors for one of two reasons

  • Partial changes in banknote specifications are made.
    For instance, Series-D notes originally issued in 1984 (Showa 59) were partially changed on December 1, 1993 (Heisei 5).
  • There are no more combinations of serial numbers.
    This happened with the Series-C 1,000 yen note (featuring a portrait of Hirobumi Ito) issued in 1963 (Showa 38) and the Series-D 10,000 yen note (featuring a portrait of Yukichi Fukuzawa) and 1,000 yen note (featuring a portrait of Natsume Soseki) issued in 1984 (Showa 59).

Denominations, serial number colors and issue dates are as follows

DenominationSerial number colorIssue date
Series-C 1,000 yen Black November 1, 1963
Blue July 1, 1976
Series-D 10,000 yen
Series-D 5,000 yen
Black November 1, 1984
Bronze December 1, 1993
Series-D 1,000 yen Black November 1, 1984
Blue November 1, 1990
Bronze December 1, 1993
Dark green April 3, 2000
Series-E 10,000 yen
Series-E 1,000 yen
Black November 1, 2004
Bronze July 19, 2011

Are banknotes with duplicated serial numbers counterfeit?

Today, each banknote in principle has a unique serial number. However, a number of old notes did not have printed serial numbers, including the following currently legal tender issues

  • Series-A 1 yen note (issued in 1946 (Showa 21)) Portrait: Sontoku Ninomiya
  • Series-A 5 yen note (issued in 1946 (Showa 21)) Guilloche pattern
  • Series-A 10 yen note (issued in 1946 (Showa 21)) Main pattern: Diet building

Some of these notes bear figures/numbers, but these were not printed sequentially. As a result, some duplication exists.

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Anti-Counterfeiting Measures

Some banknotes do not have printed micro letters. Are these counterfeit?

The specifications of Series-D banknotes issued in 1984 (Showa 59) were partially changed on December 1, 1993 (Heisei 5), and luminescent ink on the seal of the front and micro letters/microprint were introduced to prevent reproduction with color copying machines. As a result, banknotes with black serial numbers (black or blue for 1,000 yen notes) issued before the change have no micro letters. With this change, the serial number color was switched to bronze. (For 1,000 yen notes, when all serial number combinations were exhausted, the color was changed from bronze to dark green.)

Anti-Counterfeiting Measures (Series-C notes)

Why are banknote surfaces textured?

The texture is there because unique intaglio printing is used to prevent counterfeiting.

Intaglio printing can be thought of as the opposite of letterpress application. First, a plate with fine depressions/grooves is covered in ink, which is then wiped off the surface but remains in the grooves. Finally, paper is placed on the plate and compressed using a heavy roller to transfer the ink to the paper.With a magnifying glass, fine lines and dots in raised ink can be seen. The surface texture is caused by this raised intaglio ink.

In addition, Series-E notes issued on November 1, 2004 (Heisei 16), are printed with greater relief in the intaglio ink.

How do visually impaired people distinguish banknote denominations?

Three Series-E notes issued on November 1, 2004 (Heisei 16), and the Series-D 2,000 yen note issued on July 19, 2000 (Heisei 12), were printed with Braille marks and textured markings using intaglio printing with greater amounts of ink to replace existing watermarks for visually impaired people.

These Braille marks and markings are positioned at the bottom of the right- and left-hand sides on the reverse of each banknote. An L-shaped marking is used for 10,000 yen notes, an octagon-shaped marking is used for 5,000 yen notes, "に" (the Braille mark for "two") is used for 2,000 yen notes, and a horizontal-bar marking is used for 1,000 yen notes.

In addition, an app for identifying banknotes called "U・Qui・Ch-kun" ("U・Qui・Ch" stands for "Universal Quick Checker for Bank of Japan notes) is available for download free of charge.

Efforts to Enhance Identifiability

What is a watermark?

Tilting a banknote against a bright light reveals a hidden design, such as a portrait, that is otherwise imperceptible. This effect is called a watermark. Designs and letters in watermarks are made by changing the thickness of the paper, and either light or shade can be created in this way. Combining both allows elaborate watermark designs for banknotes.

Anti-Counterfeiting Measures

When were watermarks first used in Japanese banknotes?

The redesigned 5 yen note (called the Empress Jingu) issued in 1882 (Meiji 15) was the first note to bear a watermark. Since then, most banknotes issued have featured watermarks, with the exception of the Series-A 10 yen note (Diet building), the Series-A 5 yen note (guilloche pattern), the Series-A 1 yen note (Sontoku Ninomiya), the Series-A 10 sen note (dove) and the Series-A 5 sen note (plum blossoms).

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Design

What is a "Design change (kaisatsu)"?

Changing the pattern and design of a banknote is called a "Design change".

Fifty three different types of banknotes have been issued since the first banknotes (former 10 yen note / Daikoku note) were issued in 1885 (Meiji 18) by the Bank of Japan. (Specifically, excluding minor specification changes, major design changes have been made 18 times in the past. Since design changes are implemented to reflect the economic situation and other conditions of the times, the issues involved in each design change are different.)

Counterfeit notes increased at one time with the widespread use of personal computers, scanners, and color copy machines. However, banknotes that are currently in circulation incorporate many different anti-counterfeit technologies that make it impossible to reproduce banknotes with this kind of equipment.

When new tools are developed, increasing the danger of new counterfeits, banknote designs will be changed completely to incorporate the latest anti-counterfeiting measures. The main objective of a design change is to make people feel that banknotes are secure and safe to use.

History of Japanese Paper Currency

What does "XX製造" on the front of notes at the bottom mean?

This is the banknote manufacturer's imprint. Series-E banknotes issued on November 1, 2004 (Heisei 16), have "国立印刷局製造" (meaning "manufactured by the National Printing Bureau").

In addition, Series-D Bank of Japan notes excluding the 2,000 yen note have one of three imprints ("大蔵省印刷局製造" (Okurasho Insatsukyoku Seizo), "財務省印刷局製造" (Zaimusho Insatsukyoku Seizo) and "国立印刷局製造" (Kokuritsu Insatsukyoku Seizo)) as a result of administrative reform.

The issue dates for each are as follows

ImprintIssue date
大蔵省印刷局製造 November 1, 1984
財務省印刷局製造 May 14, 2001
国立印刷局製造 May 14, 2001

Which animals have been depicted on Bank of Japan notes?

Bank of Japan notes to date have featured the following eight animals

  • Mouse
  • Dove
  • Boar
  • Lion
  • Horse
  • Crane
  • Chicken
  • Pheasant

The mythical Chinese Phoenix (Hōō) has also appeared repeatedly.

Whose seals are printed on both sides of banknotes?

The seal on the front is that of the Governor of the Bank of Japan, while the reverse features the seal of the Director-General of the Bank of Japan's Currency Issue Department. Both stamps are in the classical Tensho style.

What is the biggest Japanese banknote ever issued?

The largest was the redesigned 100-yen note issued on November 15, 1891 (Meiji 24), measuring 130 × 210 mm. (See "History of Japanese Paper Currency")

History of Japanese Paper Currency

What is the smallest Japanese banknote ever issued?

The smallest was the Series-A 5 sen note issued on May 25, 1948 (Showa 23), measuring 48 × 94 mm. (See "History of Japanese Paper Currency.")

History of Japanese Paper Currency

How many banknotes have featured Mt. Fuji?

Mt. Fuji has appeared from various angles on the reverse of the 50 sen government note issued in 1938 (Showa 13), the Series-B 500 yen note issued in 1951 (Showa 26), the Series-C 500 yen note issued in 1969 (Showa 44), the Series-D 5,000 yen note issued in 1984 (Showa 59), and the Series-E 1,000 yen note issued in 2004 (Heisei 16).

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Others

Some 10,000 yen notes with Yukichi Fukuzawa's portrait on the front do not have holograms, and the designs of birds on the reverse are different from those of other 10,000 yen notes. Are these different kinds of 10,000 yen notes in circulation?

The Series-D 10,000 yen note issued in 1984 (Showa 59) also has a portrait of Yukichi Fukuzawa, but no hologram appears on the front. Two Japanese pheasants (the national bird of Japan) are depicted on the reverse. The Series-D 10,000 yen note is still legal tender. To see the design, please see the Series-D 10,000 yen note in the "Banknotes in Circulation but No Longer Issued" page.

Series-D notes

Why is the year of manufacture indicated on Japanese coins but not on banknotes?

Coins are very robust and can be used almost in perpetuity, while the lifetime of banknotes is relatively short. As a result, banknotes need to be constantly replaced. For this reason, it is unnecessary to indicate the year of manufacture on banknotes.

According to the Bank of Japan, the average life span of the 10,000 yen note is about four or five years, while 5,000 and 1,000 yen notes last about one or two years.

Some banknotes are smaller than others. Are smaller ones counterfeit?

Japanese banknote paper is manufactured using natural fibers such as Mitsumata (Oriental paperbush) and abaca pulp. Such materials can shrink after long periods of use or under the influence of humidity.

Which side is the front of a banknote?

For banknotes issued to date, the front is the side with the main pattern, and the opposite side is the reverse.

The two sides of a banknote are defined when the Finance Minister issues a public notice in the Official Gazette regarding the specifications of Bank of Japan notes issued under the Bank of Japan Act.The side identified as the front in this public notice is officially the front of the banknote. Current banknotes (the 10,000, 5,000 and 1,000 yen denominations) all feature a portrait on the front. With the 2,000 yen note, the side showing the Shureimon Gate is the front.

What is the eye-like mark on banknotes with a hologram?

The eye is the symbol of the Bank of Japan, which issues notes. The mark is thought to derive from the ancient Chinese character "日."

How much do banknotes weigh?

Each note weighs approximately 1 gram, but this varies with conditions such as humidity because the substrate is made of paper.

How tall would a stack of ten thousand 10,000 yen banknotes be?

A stack of 100 notes (with a value of 1 million yen) is approximately 1 cm, so 1,000 would be around 10 cm and 10,000 would be around 1 meter.

I have some old banknotes. Are they still legal tender?

Can a damaged banknote be exchanged for a new one?

The Bank of Japan, which issues banknotes, stipulates the following three rules with regard to the replacement of damaged banknotes:

  • More than two-thirds of the note remains. - The full value will be replaced.
  • More than two-fifths but less than two-thirds of the note remains. - Half the value will be replaced.
  • Less than two-fifths of the note remains. - No replacement will be provided.

I would like to show a photograph of a banknote in a book, in an advertisement or on the Internet.
Are there any related regulations or rules?

The Act on Control of Imitation of Currency and Securities prohibits the production and/or sale of products that are confusingly similar to banknotes. Anybody manufacturing goods featuring partial or whole banknote design reproductions judged to be illegal (based on the degree of design similarity, size, materials used and other considerations) will face prosecution.For more information, contact the Office of Currency Matters in the Treasury Division of the Financial Bureau at the Ministry of Finance, which oversees monetary matters. Tel: 03-3581-4111 (main switchboard)

Can banknotes be used for origami (the art of paper folding) or written on?

The law does not specifically define such acts as illegal. However, banknotes that have become impaired due to excessive wear or written on can be more difficult to distinguish from counterfeit notes, and may be rejected by ATMs or vending machines.

Defacing in the form of cutting or burning and even more minor forms of damage create a major problem for banknotes in daily use. As unspecified numbers of people use each banknote, they should be treated with reasonable care.

What is the penalty for making/using counterfeit banknotes?

Anybody found making/using counterfeit banknotes will face very serious charges. Bringing counterfeit banknotes into the country is also a serious offense. Anybody suspecting that a banknote in their possession is counterfeit should refrain from using it and take it to a nearby police station.

〔Main Control Law〕

  • Crimes relating to the counterfeiting or alteration of currency (Criminal Code Article 148, paragraph 1)
    → Punishable by penal servitude for life or not less than three years
  • Crimes relating to the uttering, counterfeiting or alteration of currency (Criminal Code Article 148, paragraph 2)
    → Punishable by penal servitude for life or not less than three years
  • Crimes relating to the import of cargo regulated under import bans (Customs Act Article 109, paragraph 1)
    → Punishable by penal servitude for up to ten years or a fine of up to 30 million yen

I hear permission is needed to manufacture watermarked paper. Where can I inquire about this?

Based on the Act on Control of Manufacture of Watermarked Paper, government clearance is required for the manufacture of paper with shaded watermarks or wire watermarks resembling letters or designs used in watermarks on Bank of Japan notes.For more information, contact the Office of Currency Matters in the Treasury Division of the Financial Bureau at the Ministry of Finance, which oversees monetary matters. Tel: 03-3581-4111 (main switchboard)

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