Traveler Trivia: The Faces of Japanese Currency

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Have you ever looked at Japanese currency and wondered, "Who the heck is on the bills?"  In some countries, the representatives on the bills can be recognizable because they are typically the visages of royalty, revolutionary leaders, or former heads-of-state.  For example, the U.S. has mostly American presidents (with a few other "founding fathers"), most commonwealth countries have current or former members of the Royal family, Vietnam has Ho Chi Minh, etc.  In Japan, however, the figures on the bills are not so straightforward.  While Fukuzawa Yukichi (the first represented below) is well-known to students of Japanese history, the other two are a bit more obscure.  So here are the three representatives selected to grace Japanese currency: 

FUKUZAWA Yukichi (10,000 yen note)

Regarded one of the founders of modern Japan, Fukuzawa was a samurai who gave up the sword in order to become a diplomat and academic following Matthew Perry's forcing open of Japanese borders in 1853.  He was on the first diplomatic missions to the United States, France, England, the Netherlands, Prussia, and Russia. Fukuzawa founded Keio University and the newspaper, Jiji Shinpo, while also publishing dictionaries and several treatises.  Essentially, he is the father of modern Japanese humanities.

Higuchi Ichiyo (5,000 yen note)

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Higuchi is not the first female to grace a Japanese bank note, but she is the first to have lived in the modern era.  Higuchi was a Meiji-era (1868-1912) author and Japan's first prominent female writer in modern Japan.  Unfortunately, Higuchi fell victim to Tuberculosis, a disease that claimed many lives during Japan's Industrial revolution and up to World War II.  Higuchi represents Japan's unique and prominent literature.

NOGUCHI Hideyo (1,000 yen note)

Noguchi was an influential 20th century scientist.  His most famous contribution is his identification of the causative agent of syphilis in the brain tissues of patients suffering from meningoencephalitis.  Other lasting contributions of his include the use of snake venom in serums, the identification of the leishmaniasis pathogen and of Carrion's disease with Oroya fever.  He represents Japan's deep ties with medical innovation.

So now you know who is one the different bank notes in Japan.  If nothing else, it could make for a good ice-breaker with fellow travelers or others you encounter during your journeys in Japan.

Mike B