Yen banknotes were first introduced in 1872, a couple years after the yen coins were introduced in Japan. In the beginning, the Bank of Japan issued a couple different types of bills, ranging from 10 sen to 100 sen. Because of rampant inflation, none of those bills are still in circulation.
In 1957, the 5000 yen and 10,000 yen bills were introduced. In 2000, the 2000 yen bill was introduced. To this day, the 1,000 and 10,000 yen bills are the most common in circulation, with the occasional 5000 yen bill (and the extremely rare 2000 yen bill).
They looks like this.
The 1000 yen bill is blue, with a dimension of 150 X 76 mm. On the front is a picture of Noguchi Hideyo; on the back is a picture of Mt Fuji, Lake Motosu, and some cherry blossom trees.
The 2000 yen bill is green with a dimension of 154 X 76 mm. On the front is a picture of Shurei-mon, a famous structure in Okinawa; on the back is a scene from the Tale of Genji – one of the oldest novels every written.
The 5000 yen is purple, with a dimension of 156 X 76 mm. On the front is a picture of Higuchi Ichiyo; on the back is a copy of the Kakitsubata-zu painting.
The 10,000 yen bill is yellow-brown with a dimension of 160 X 76 mm. On the front is a picture of Fukuzawa Yukichi; on the back is a picture of the the ho-o phoenix statue from the Byodo-in temple in Kyoto.
Of course, in this day and age, it’s nearly impossible to find a 2,000 yen bill. I found this one by accident; one of my friends had exchanged money at the airport and ended up with two 2,000 yen bills. I promptly traded her two 1,000 yen bills for one of her rare 2,000 yen bills. I keep it folded up in the back of my wallet – pulling it out every once and a while to show other (surprised) foreigners.
Newer vending machines won’t accept these old 2,000 yen bills; store clerks will often look at the bills a couple times over (mostly trying to figure out which slot they go in the register) before accepting the 2,000 yen bill as a form of payment.
The other bills are fairly straightforward. Blue 1,000 yen and yellow 10,000 yen bills are very common, just like the 2,000 yen bill, the purple 5,000 yen bill is becoming less common. The ticket machines at train stations, convenience stores, and shops will often give change is 1,000 yen bill increments (up to about 7,000 yen in change).
The yen fluctuates pretty rapidly. When I first got to Japan it was 77 yen to the dollar, now it is 97 yen to the dollar. Five years ago it was 125 yen to the dollar.
Japan is a cash economy; Since credit card aren’t accepted in most establishments (such as convenience stores, most clothing shops, and some hotels), it is important to keep your wallet stocked with cash. If you are traveling to Japan and need cash, 7-Eleven ATMs accept nearly all foreign credit cards (with a $2 surcharge).
And sometimes these ATMs will spit out old bills, like this old 10,000 bill.
The lower 10,000 yen bill comes from the 1984 collection of 1000, 5000, and 10000 yen bills that were suspended in April of 2007.
The 1984 Edition:
The 1000 yen bill is blue, with a dimension of 150 X 76 mm. On the front is a picture of Natsume Soseki; on the back is a pair of cranes (birds).
The 5000 yen is purple, with a dimension of 155 X 76 mm. On the front is a picture of Nitobe Inazo; on the back is a Mt. Fuji, Lake Motosu, and some cherry blossoms.
The 10,000 yen bill is yellow-brown with a dimension of 160 X 76 mm. On the front is a picture of Fukuzawa Yukichi; on the back is a pair of pheasants.
If you look at the picture above, you can see both the 2004 10,000 yen bill and the 1984 10,000 yen bill.
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