If you are thinking of visiting Japan, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the Japanese currency, yen. Not only that, but you should also know a bit about the social norms surrounding money in Japan.
Let’s start off with how to say ‘money’ in Japanese, and then we will discuss other money-related terms and tips which are handy to know!
How to say money in Japanese (and other useful money vocab)
The Japanese word for money is okane (お金 / おかね). The kanji 金 (きん) means gold (pronounced kin) however when paired with the honorific suffix o (お), it is pronounced as okane and refers particularly to money.
Genkin (現金 / げんきん) specifically refers to cash. Japan is notorious for being a mainly cash-driven country. However, these days card and digital cashless forms of payment are becoming increasingly accepted. This is especially true after the Coronavirus pandemic.
Keep an eye out for signs at checkouts reading genkin nomi (現金のみ) meaning ‘cash only’! You would most likely find yourself in this situation when paying in smaller, local businesses.
When you overpay, the cashier will give you your ‘change’ or otsuri (お釣り / おつり). If you are making a purchase from a Japanese vending machine you may see a lever with otsuri written on it. When finished with your purchase or if you changed your mind and want your money back, pull this lever!
In English, we also use the word ‘change’ to mean small coins. In Japanese, this is referred to as komakai okane (細かいお金 / こまかいおかね) which literally translates to ‘small money’.
Kozukai (小遣い / こづかい) is what we know as ‘pocket money’ or ‘allowance’ in English. It tends to refer to relatively small money which you may use when popping down to the convenience store for some snacks.
Currency in Japan
The currency in Japan is the Japanese yen (円 / えん), indicated by the ¥ symbol. Note that although it is spelled yen in English, the Japanese pronunciation is en.
Unlike currencies such as the US dollar, euro or pound, Japanese yen does not follow a decimal system. Therefore, don’t be surprised when you go to buy a drink from the vending machine and see that it costs ¥200!
Japan uses four different paper bills, known as osatsu (お札 / おさつ). The biggest bill you can find is worth 10,000 yen. In Japanese it is called ichi man en (一万円 / いちまんえん) It is brownish in colour and features Fukuzawa Yukichi, who was the founder of Keio University in Tokyo.
Then follows the 5,000 yen note, known as go sen en (五千円 / ごせんえん) in Japanese. This note is purple and has a picture of Ichiyo Higuchi, a writer and poet and Japan’s first professional female writer of modern literature.
There also exists a 2,000 yen note, called ni sen en (二千円 / にせんえん). It is green and depicts Shureimon, a gate at Shuri Castle in Naha, Okinawa. However, 2,000 yen notes were only ever produced during 2000-2004. Nowadays, they are still in circulation albeit very rare to come across.
The lowest value note is the 1,000 yen bill. The issen en (一千円 / いっせんえん) bill is blue with an image of Hideyo Noguchi, a famous bacteriologist.
As for coins, there are currently six different coins or kozeni (小銭 / こぜに) in circulation.
The 500 yen coin, or go hyaku en (五百円 / ごひゃくえん) is the largest in value out of the Japanese coins. It is the largest and heaviest out of all of the coins. 500 yen existed as a paper bank note until 1994, when production of the note ceased and the production of the 500 yen coin began.
The 100 yen coin, or hyaku en (百円 / ひゃくえん) is one of the most convenient of the Japanese currencies as it can be used in all vending machines, capsule toy machines (gachapon) and coin-operated lockers. You can also spend your hyaku en coins at one of Japan’s many hyaku en stores, which are similar to pound shops/dollar stores.
We then have the 50 yen coin. Go jyu en (五十円 / ごじゅうえん) is easily identified by the hole present in the middle of the silver coin.
Next is the 10 yen coin, or jyu en (十円 / じゅうえん). This coin differs from the rest as it is made of copper.
Then we have the 5 yen coin, or go en (五円 / ごえん). Like the 50 yen coin, it features a hole in the centre. It has a notably yellowish hue. Go en (五円) is actually a homophone with go en (ご縁) translating to ‘fate’ or ‘relationship’ and holds a meaning of good fortune. This is why 5 yen is often given as an offering at shrines in order to make good ‘relationships’ with the gods and to wish for good fortune in your future.
The smallest of the Japanese currencies is the 1 yen coin, known as ichi en (一円 / いちえん). It is the smallest and lightest of all the coins and can even float on water if you place it just right!
Money etiquette in Japan
Since we have now covered money-related vocab in Japanese and ran through each note and coin, let’s get to spending!
One of the first things you may notice when making a purchase in Japan, is that most cashiers will accept your payment via money tray. This is a little silver or plastic tray where you place your cash before handing it over to the cashier.
This is a convenient form of payment as you have the chance to properly count your money and use up any small coins you may have. The cashier will then receive the tray and say [the amount] o azukari itashimasu! (お預かりいたします / おあずかりいたします) meaning ‘I have received / you gave me…’.
If returning change, the cashier will present you with each note while counting them aloud, starting from the largest bill to the smallest. After handing over the stack of organised notes, they will then place any coin change neatly on top of your receipt.
Another thing of note when shopping in Japan is that the price tag often displays two prices: the base price, and the final price including consumption tax, which is set at 10% for most items.
Luckily, non-residents visiting Japan can avail of tax-free shopping. Look out for the tax-free sign in the windows of stores, and bring your passport to the checkout to enjoy tax-free shopping!
Despite Japan being big on cash payments, these days there are plenty of other accepted forms. Many establishments accept Visa and Mastercards while contactless payments via smartphone are also becoming increasingly popular. In Japan, it is popular to use apps such as LinePay or PayPay.
You can also spend money using an IC travel card such as Suica or Pasmo. Once loaded with money, their primary use is to tap on and off when using public transport. Conveniently, you can also use them for payments at vending machines and selected stores.
Here’s what you need to know about tipping in Japan: don’t do it !!
In countries such as the US, it is expected to leave at least a 10% tip, as service staff often cannot survive on wages alone, and rely on tips to make up for it. But if you try to leave a tip in a Japanese restaurant you may find the staff running after you to return the surplus.
It may feel strange not to leave a tip, especially because Japanese staff provide top quality service, but that’s the culture!
Money in Japan
So now you know many different words for money in Japanese, as well as some cultural tips on how to pay and use money in Japan!
For more practical, everyday Japanese language and culture, we recommend JapanesePod101. There are hundreds of fun and useful online and audio lessons to dive into, plus useful tools such as flashcards.
Hannah is a half Irish/half Japanese girl living in Ireland. Her love for Japan and the Japanese language led her to studying languages and translation in university where she specialised in Japanese. She spent a year studying abroad at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. In her free time, Hannah enjoys using her sewing machine to upcycle clothes and create new pieces!