The People on Japanese Yen Bills: Who Are They?

  • Naturally, nobody can get by in Japan without yen – but like any other currency in the world, yen is so common that it’s easy to pay no attention to any of the bill details.
    Yen coins – except for 10 yen – primarily have plant patterns, while banknotes have illustrations of the notable Japanese places and objects. Conspicuously, the obverse of the current Japanese banknotes (series E) also feature the portraits of real people. But who are they?

    1000 yen – Hideyo Noguchi

    Hideyo Niguchi was a Japanese bacteriologist.
    He successfully isolated the Treponema pallidum, a bacterial causative agent to syphilis that eventually causes neurological disorders. He was also successful in verifying that Bartonella bacilliformis causes both Oroya fever and Peruvian warts.
    His career was not void of serious controversies, but his contributions to science were honored in and outside of Japan. Awards for Noguchi include the Imperial Prize of the Japan Academy (Japan), Knight of the Order of Dannebrog (Denmark) and Knight of the Legion of Honor (France). The Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize was established in 2006 to honor contributions in the field of medical research to combat the infectious diseases in Africa.

    (Nov. 24, 1876 ~ May 21, 1928)

    5000 yen – Ichiyo Higuchi

    Natsu Higuchi – more popularly known by her pen name Ichiyou Higuchi – was a Japanese writer of short stories in the Meiji Period. She had a short life (she died at the age of 24) but her works are considered gems of Japanese literature.
    Marked in her short stories are Higuchi’s experiences living a poor life. Among her best-known stories are Takekurabe(“Growing Up”) and Jusan-ya (“The Thirteenth Night”) – both stories about the plight of the lowly. A few of her stories have been made into movies.

    (May. 2, 1873 ~ Oct. 23, 1896)

    10000 yen – Yukichi Fukuzawa

    Yukichi Fukuzawa was an influential writer, educator and journalist. He established the Keio University and the Jiji-Shinpou (“The Times”) newspaper.
    It is said that with Fukuwaza’s ideologies came the beginning of modern Japan and the end of plutocracy. He believed that every person should be given equal opportunities to education, regardless of wealth.
    Having travelled to Europe and the United States, Fukuzawa believed Japan was behind its Western counterparts, thus, he advocated the incorporation of Western ideas into Japan, particularly in education.
    Fukuzawa published best-selling books. His writings include a Japanese-English dictionary, within which he introduced two new katakana characters to represent “V” sounds.

    (Jan. 10, 1835 ~ Feb. 3, 1901)