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Characteristics of Banknotes


We are the people who make the banknotes!

We use banknotes almost every day. These banknotes are created from first to last by the National Printing Bureau – from papermaking to printing and finishing.

The history of Japanese banknotes started in 1877 (Meiji 10), when the Printing Bureau under the Ministry of Finance, the predecessor to the National Printing Bureau, manufactured Japan's first domestically produced paper money. We have continued to manufacture Japanese banknotes since then.

Have you ever noticed the characters “国立印刷局製造” [translated as “manufactured by the National Printing Bureau”] at the bottom of each banknote? This is the manufacturer's imprint and it certifies that the banknote was produced by the National Printing Bureau.

NPB the Meiji period, Manufacturer's  imprint

How many banknotes are produced?

Banknotes are manufactured based on an order received from the Bank of Japan, which is Japan's central bank.

The number of banknotes produced differs each year, but we deliver around 3 billion notes to the Bank of Japan in the average year. Since one banknote has a thickness of about 0.1 millimeters, if all the banknotes produced in a year were stacked up, they would reach a height of approximately 300 kilometers, which is about 80 times the height of Mount Fuji.

The banknotes delivered from the National Printing Bureau to the Bank of Japan are put into general circulation by financial institutions.

Banknotes are made from special paper!

Japanese banknotes are made from mitsumata (Edgeworthia papyrifera or Oriental paperbush), abaca pulp, and other fibers, giving the finished product a unique coloring and texture.

Mitsumata has been used since ancient times as a raw material for Japanese paper called “washi.” The tradition of using mitsumata as the raw material for making banknote paper has been passed down since it was first used for this purpose in 1879 (Meiji 12).

Banknotes are used for a long period of time, passing from person to person, and being bended, folded and handled in a variety of different ways. Thus, banknote paper needs to be highly durable.

It is also important for the paper to be difficult to counterfeit. Noticing the difference in how the banknote feels when touched is the first step toward identifying counterfeit money, and the clear watermarks are also a driving force in preventing counterfeits.

Materials for paper of Bank of Japan notes, Watermark of Series-E 10,000 yen note

Banknotes are also printed using unique techniques!

Portraits, denominations, and other major designs are printed using a method called intaglio printing, which is also effective in preventing counterfeits.

In intaglio printing, the ink is raised compared to regular printing, giving the printing surface a textured feel.

The printing surface that has been copied with copying machines and scanners are smooth, which gives it a pronounced difference from the feel of actual banknotes. Thus, intaglio printing is one of the main technologies for preventing counterfeits.

Another feature of the banknote is that it is printed using exceptionally fine lines. It is extremely difficult to reproduce such fine lines on a regular printer or color copy machine.

Intaglio printing, Ultrafine-line printing

The widespread use of cash handling machines

We have so far looked at how the banknotes look and feel. But when we take into account how banknotes are processed through machines, we notice that the distribution route of cash in our lives has changed a lot from the past, and that the use of cash handling machines has spread rapidly.

For example, we deposit and withdraw cash from ATMs at banks and convenience stores; charge money onto our IC smart card or purchase tickets from ticket vending machines at train stations; change money at money changing machines; purchase beverages from vending machines, and more.

We can see that the number of cash handling machines (per 10,000 persons) in Japan is quite large compared to other countries.

In today's world, money processing machines have become indispensable. Thus, banknotes must also be adapted for machine delivery and machine readability.

Counterfeit Japanese banknotes are extremely rare!

Counterfeit notes are the greatest threat to banknotes. According to statistics by the National Police Agency, only a few thousand counterfeit notes have been detected annually over the past few years. When this figure is compared to the number of banknotes that are in circulation, you can see that the number of counterfeit notes in Japan is extremely small in comparison to other parts of the world.

This is because, in addition to Japan being a relatively safe and secure country, our banknotes are made to incorporate various anti-counterfeiting measures, making it difficult to make counterfeit notes.

However, with the advancement of recent digital image processing technology (computers, scanners, printers, etc.), there are an increasing number of sophisticated counterfeit notes that cannot be immediately identified by sight as genuine or counterfeit.

There are also an increasing number of cases where counterfeits are aimed at vending machines and other cash handling machines. Thus, what is required are banknotes with advanced anti-counterfeit measures that are not only suitable to be handled person-to-person, but also prevent counterfeits that target cash handling machines.

We will continue our efforts to develop high quality banknotes incorporating advanced anti-counterfeit measures to maintain the safety of our banknotes so that everyone will be able to feel more secure in using them.

Making counterfeits is a crime!!

Making counterfeit notes or uttering them knowing that they are counterfeits, is punishable by law. Similarly, it is against the law to alter genuine banknotes by changing the denomination or cutting.

(Main Control law)

  • Crimes relating to the counterfeiting or alteration of currency (Criminal Code Article 148, paragraph1)
    →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

How long will a banknote last?

It depends on how the banknote is used, but according to the Bank of Japan, the average lifespan of a 10,000 yen note is 4 to 5 years. Since 5,000 yen and 1,000 yen notes are used more often in change, they are more easily damaged, and usually last for about 1 to 2 years.

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