The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 run July 24-Aug. 9, 2020, and while they may be nearly 20 months away there’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Each Tuesday leading up to the Games, TeamUSA.org will present a nugget you should read about – from athletes to watch to storylines to follow to Japanese culture and landmarks – as part of “Tokyo 2020 Tuesday.” Follow along on social media with the hashtag #Tokyo2020Tuesday.
You might confuse it with the Chinese yuan. You might have seen it in a crossword puzzle as a three-letter staple. Or you might just know it as the money with the hole in it.
But Japan’s yen is more than just a curiosity, it’s one of the most-traded currencies in the world, after the U.S. dollar and the euro. And anyone traveling to Japan for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 should get to know it.
The yen and yuan sound alike because they share a similar etymology, roughly meaning “round.” Japanese currency dates back to the 8th century, but the modern yen was adopted by the Meiji government in 1871.
Current Japanese coinage comes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 yen. The 5 and 50 yen coins come with the famous hole. Each depicts a classic Japanese symbol on its obverse, such as the cherry blossoms on the 100 yen coin. Coins come in handy in Japan, which has the highest number of vending machines per capita in the world.
The Japanese government periodically issues commemorative coins for special events, as they did for the 1964 Olympic Games and will do again for 2020. Designs will depict numerous individual sports as well as the official emblem of the Games. But don’t expect to see too many of these in your change; most will stay in the hands of collectors.
Banknotes are issued in 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 yen denominations. The obverse features a portrait of notable Japanese figures from history, while the reverse shows Japanese landmarks. Cash remains king in Japan, where credit and debit cards make up less than 20 percent of purchases. You’ll notice a tray when you go to pay. Put the bill in there rather than hand it to the cashier; he or she will deliver your change back the same way.
Olympic visitors need not worry about doing too much math. The yen has historically traded with the dollar at roughly a 100:1 ratio, making conversion simple. Just divide the denomination by 10 and you’ll know what you’re dealing with.
An employee counts Japanese yen at a retail store on Jan. 1, 2016 in Tokyo.