Learning Japanese Currency

Before moving overseas, the only thing I knew is that Japanese money is called “yen” and the symbol is “¥”. It hasn’t been a bad learning curve, but there are a few things that would have been easier to know beforehand. 

This post was written to pass along what I have learned along with some tips and tricks to make your life a little easier.

Cartoon chalkboard lesson: Money in Japan 101

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Currency in Japan

Currency: Japanese Yen
Japanese money symbol: 円 or ¥

  • Bills: ¥1,000, ¥2,000, ¥5,000, ¥10,000
  • Coins: ¥1, ¥5, ¥10, ¥50, ¥100, ¥500

Note: ¥ is the symbol for both the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan.

All Japanese coins value

The 5 yen coin is the only one that has its number written in kanji. It is pronounced go-yen (五円), which sounds the same as go-en (御縁). Go 御 is a respectful prefix and En 縁 stands or relationships or destiny. Due to this, 5 yen coins are seen as lucky and offered as donations at shrines. Here are some other interesting money superstitions.

Related Reading: Follow this link to learn more about the different types of currency around the world.

円 vs ¥

When I came to Japan, I was a little confused about the prices of items. I knew that the currency symbol was “¥”, but on every price tag I was seeing this instead, “円”. I knew I should hurry up and research this before I accidentally spent too much money! Here’s what I found out:

In the Japanese writing system “円” would be the written word for “yen”. The difference between 円 and ¥ is that 円 is the word for yen and ¥ is the symbol.

Similarly, dollars is the term for money in America while $ is the symbol.

Note: The yen symbol ¥ is placed before the denomination ¥100, and 円 is placed after 100円.

In Japanese, 円 is pronounced as “en” and also means circle. Unlike the American dollar sign which is placed in front of the number ($100), the en is placed behind the number (100円).

Japanese Yen to USD

The current exchange rate is 1 USD to 138 Japanese Yen (as of May 2023).

The current prices are pretty similar that there’s an easy trick to convert prices on the go. When shopping in Japan, you can move the decimal point 2 places to the left to get the approximate amount in USD.

For example, 314 Yen would be about 3.14 dollars. When you do the actual conversion, you’ll be surprised to learn that you actually only spent about $2.27.

What can you buy with 100 yen in Japan? 100 yen can buy about the same things as a dollar bill can. However, 100 yen in Japan is currently 87 cents in USD. There are also 100 yen stores similar to American dollar stores. My favorite 100 yen store is Daiso, which can also be found in America now.

Yakitori stand with pork and chicken sticks for 90 yen each

You can also get street food for 90 yen. At yakitori stands, you can find grilled chicken skewers made from various parts of the chicken. This stand had interesting parts (heart, liver, skin, tongue) made of both chicken and pork. Customers gather around and have their fill and place the sticks in a container. When done, the sticks are counted and paid for.

Related Post: Things to do in Japan (With Prices)

How do you get Yen in Japan?

Credit cards are accepted at many places in Japan; however, it is not accepted widely enough to get away without having some yen in your pocket. There are still some places that only accept yen in the city, and even more in the country.

TIP: Some machines (such as vending and meal ticket machines) only take coins and 1000 yen bills. It would be beneficial to always carry those.

You can get yen via ATM withdrawal or currency exchange at places such as banks, hotels, or post offices.

All forms of payment accepted include:

  • Yen
  • Credit cards
  • IC cards (Prepaid cards used for transportation i.e. Suica, Pasmo, etc.)

TIP: It’s acceptable to pay small fees using large bills. This is sometimes the only way to get change.

TIP: You can purchase one of these coin sorters at a 100 yen store. It helped a lot before I got used to how each coin looked as well.

Yen coin holder filled with coins


What is the currency of Japan?

Japanese yen is used in the country of Japan, the symbols for it are ¥ and 円. Yen denominations are: ¥1, ¥5, ¥10, ¥50, ¥100, ¥500, ¥1,000, ¥2,000, ¥5,000, and ¥10,000.

Is 1 yen a lot in Japan?

¥1 is a very low amount in Japan and worth about the same as a penny in America. It is an extremely light coin and weighs only 1 gram.

Is 1 million yen a lot in Japan?

1 million yen is not very much money and worth much less than 1 million dollars. One million yen to USD is only about $8,676.

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