New Notes for a New Era

Japan’s currency is to receive a makeover with new designs imminent for its banknotes and highest denomination coin.

This article first appeared in the May/June print edition of The Japan Journal.

On April 9, 2019, Japan’s Ministry of Finance announced a reissue of the Bank of Japan’s banknotes, the 10,000-, 5,000- and 1,000-yen denominations but not the lesser circulated 2,000-yen note. The Ministry also announced a re-minting of Japan’s highest-denomination coin, the 500-yen piece. The new banknotes are expected to appear during the first half of the 2024 fiscal year (April to September) while the new 500-yen coin will go into circulation in the first half of FY 2021.

The banknotes currently used in Japan were introduced in November 2004 and feature technology to prevent forgery such as holograms, watermark patterns, latent images, pearl and luminescent inks, tactile marks (intaglio printing) and microprinting. While the number of discovered forged banknotes is trending downwards, around fifteen years have now passed and naturally the technology is getting old.

The anti-forgery measures introduced in the new banknotes include two significant features. One is a new, highly detailed watermark pattern, which in combination with the existing watermark will make it difficult for the notes to be reproduced by computers, color copy machines and other devices. The second is the replacement of current hologram, which appears to change color and pattern with changes in the viewing angle, with a cutting-edge stripe-type hologram having, respectively, a rotating three-dimensional portrait on the 10,000- and 5,000-yen notes, and a patch-type hologram on the 1,000-yen note.

New Faces

And what about the individuals featured on the banknotes?

The famous face on the obverse of the 10,000-yen note will change from the modernizing thinker Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835–1901) to Shibusawa Eiichi (1840–1931); that on the 5,000-yen note will change from the Meiji-period female novelist Ichiyo Higuchi (1872–1896) to Tsuda Umeko (1864–1929); and that on the 1,000-yen note will change from the bacteriologist Noguchi Hideyo (1876–1928) to Kitasato Shibasaburo (1853–1931).

Shibusawa Eiichi is said to be the father of Japanese capitalism and was involved in the establishment of The First National Bank (later the Dai-Ichi Bank and now Mizuho Bank), the predecessors to the present-day Tokyo Stock Exchange and Tokyo Chamber of Commerce, as well as around 500 companies. He also worked to set up over 600 educational and social projects, in addition to engaging in diplomacy as a private individual in Europe, the United States and Asia. [Ed. Please see our long-running series on Shibusawa which appears on pp. 20–21 of this and more than seventy previous issues.]

Shibusawa Eiichi will be the face of the new 10,000 yen banknote [BOJ sample image]

The design on the reverse side of the new 10,000 yen note features Tokyo Station (the Marunouchi station building). This historic structure was designed by Tatsuno Kingo (1854–1919), completed in 1914, and is affectionately known in Japanese as the “red brick station building.” It is one of the iconic buildings of the Meiji and Taisho periods. Tatsuno also worked on the headquarters of the Dai-Ichi Bank when Shibusawa was serving as its second president.



Tsuda Umeko accompanied the Iwakura Mission at the age of six in 1871 and in so doing became one of the first Japanese women to study abroad in the United States. She returned to Japan in 1882, worked as an English teacher, then later contributed to modern higher education for women in Japan, including by founding the Joshi Eigaku Juku in 1900 (now the Tsuda College.)

Tsuda Umeko will be the face of the new 5,000 yen note [BoJ sample image]


Wisteria feature on the reverse side of the new 5,000 yen note. The well-known flowering vine has featured in Japanese poetry since ancient times, with many poems to be found in such anthologies as the Kojiki and Man’yoshu.


The portrait on the 1,000-yen note is of Kitasato Shibasaburo, who studied under Robert Koch at the University of Berlin and left a large number of achievements. Shibasaburo was the first in the world to succeed in growing the tetanus bacillus in pure culture, developed a serum therapy for tetanus using the pure culture, and also discovered the bubonic plague bacterium. On his return to Japan from Berlin Kitasato founded the Institute for Infectious Diseases and, later, the Kitasato Institute, both private organizations. He is also known for his work on education for the young.


Kitasato Shibasaburo will be the face of the new 1,000 yen note [BoJ sample image]

On the reverse side of the new 1,000 yen note is a detail from woodblock print master Katsushika Hokusai’s most famous work, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” part of his “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” series.


MIZUNO Tetsu is a freelance journalist.

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