Does Japan’s five-yen coin need a redesign?

By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

On their first trip to Japan, many travelers are struck by how distinct the design of the five-yen coin is. With its bright gold color and prominent hole in the middle, getting a five-yen coin at the money exchange counter or as change when making a purchase makes it feel like the monetary system itself is saying “Welcome to Japan!”

But as indicative of the country as it may be, some Japanese people think the five-yen coin could use a bit of a redesign. Proponents of a change cite personal observations of foreign travelers in stores and on public transportation being confused about how much the coin is worth, and point to one reason why.

The five-yen coin is the only denomination without its value written in numerals. The only indication of its worth is in the kanji characters 五円, which mean “five yen,” and so foreign visitors who can’t read kanji, or who can’t read those two in particular, have no way of determining how much the five-yen coin is worth without prior knowledge. Because of this, some individuals are saying numerals should be added before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when the number of foreigners visited Japan is expected to surge.

While we’re taking a close look at the five-yen coin, let’s stop to appreciate all the aspirational philosophy that went into its design, which was adopted in the late 1940s. At the time, Japan was still recovering from the devastating effects of World War II, and so the coin’s designers put two sprouting plants on one face of the coin, to symbolize their hopes that the nation would be making steady progress as it rebuilt itself.

On the other side, the designers placed references to what they felt would be the three pillars of economic recovery. The stalk of rice, symbolizing the nation’s farmers, is hard to miss, but those horizontal lines behind the “five yen” kanji represent the waves of the ocean, as fishing and marine products have always been an important contributor to Japanese life and livelihoods. Finally, on this side of the coin only, the central hole is surrounded by a series of notches like those found on a mechanical gear, as a salute to the nation’s industrial workers and institutions.

With so much meaningful iconography involved, a major overhaul of the five-yen coin’s design seems unlikely. That said, finding space to fit a 5 somewhere within the existing design doesn’t seem like an impossible task, but it may prove to be an unnecessary one. As mentioned above, the gold-colored five-yen coin has a hole, a trait it shares only with the silver-colored 50-yen coin, making the five-yen piece’s combination of shape and color unique among Japan’s coins, so as long as visitors know that Japan has a five-yen coin, it’s not too hard to determine which one it is.

There’s also the fact that vending machines in Japan, in general, don’t accept five-yen coins, and as a result any time you’re in a position to use one, you’ll probably be dealing with a human being, who hopefully can help you overcome the monetary language barrier.

Source: Yahoo! Japan News/J Cast via Otakomu

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Japanese government recommends changing Buddhist temple mark on maps to avoid Nazi connotations

-- Hello Kitty keeping as busy as ever — this time she collaborates with…money itself!

-- Misprinted 1-yen coin sells for US$27,500 at auction

© SoraNews24

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Not at all. Very distinctive and dare I suggest; iconic?

Proponents of a change cite personal observations of foreign travelers in stores and on public transportation being confused about how much the coin is worth

Maybe for a day but one soon realises the worth.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I don't see the issue. American coins are all kinds of confusing too, but there seems to be no problem once you spend the 30 seconds to familiarize yourself with them. (Coins being labeled "one cent", "five cents", "one dime", "quarter dollar" in addition to varied thicknesses and sizes)

Worst case it would a simple thing to make the 5 kanji into an actual 5 numeral on future coins, no?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Last time I was at my inlaws, I found a book my FiL has about collectable coins and banknotes. It showed that even the modern coins have been (slightly) redesigned many times.

Getting a number "5" on there somewhere strikes me as moving with the times. Some of the changes mooted for 2020 like the onsen symbol or the swastika for temples aren't necessary I believe, but I think this one makes sense. Unlike maps that come with legends for their symbols, coins should be recognizable by themselves.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

"Need"? No. However, with a new regal name coming in January, 2019 there might be an open design competition to mark the transfer.

Proponents of a change cite personal observations of foreign travelers in stores and on public transportation being confused 

Why not change the national language to accommodate foreign visitors as well?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The holes were used on early Japanese coins, allowing them to be strung together.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Here's another away with the one yen and five yen coins completely.

Wouldn't that save the gov't some money?

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

No1samurai: good idea. It even creates a slight inflation as the sops will round up the prices to the next 10 Yen.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Maybe after consumption tax is raised to 10% from the current 8%.

Right now it would be a mess and hassle.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Because the coin is so distinctive looking I don't think this is a problem. "The one with the hole is worth 5 Yen" takes about 2 seconds to learn and is easy to remember (if it was a more generic looking coin this might be more of an issue, but that isn't the case).

5 ( +6 / -1 )

There was talk of putting a hole in the 500 yen coin too, but it was decided not to as 'advanced countries' don't have holes in their coins!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Why is this an issue at all? I guess the government has more important problems to deal with, such as hidden poverty, depopulation of rural areas, Fukushima evacuees, and many more. But coin redesign, seriously?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Of course, Japan has so much extra cash laying around in the budget. Why not spend it on more frivolity?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Just change the 五 to a 5. What's the issue here?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Does Japan’s five-yen coin need a redesign?

Seems to be a solution looking for a problem.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Just put a '5' somewhere on it rather than just the Japanese characters. That would ease the frustration of tourists and visitors to Japan.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Does Japan’s five-yen coin need a redesign?

No Japan’s one AND five-yen coin need to resign.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

I think the five yen coin is fine, but they need to get rid of those flipping one yen coins.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I still have one on my key chain, many years later. Why would I be confused on its worth especially since it says 5 yen on it? Article a real head scratcher

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

No need to change the design. And the fact of having the hole in common with the Y50 has a nice neatness to it. Maybe they should put a hole in the Y500 as well.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The best configuration is 1, 2, 5. It's very easy to make any amount from one to ten. This would give:

1 yen 2 yen 5 yen

10 yen 20 yen 50 yen

100 yen 200 yen 500 yen

Then, in bills:

1,000 yen 2,000 yen 5,000 yen

10,000 yen 20,000 yen 100,000 yen

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Most tourist guide books have a page illustrating the coins in circulation.

The majority of foreign visitors come from Kanji background countries, ie Korea, Taiwan, China etc., so the 五円 coin is no problem for them.

People flying in from the west who have not done a stroke of homework might raise their eyebrows for a second or two over a 5-yen coin, but there is really no need to change anything for them.

*Add an Arabic numeral 5 if it's easy. 

One thing though, it might be worth telling visitors that Japan is still a cash-oriented society, where cards are accepted but not always so easily as in the west.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

RainyDay - I like your comment. Do people travel internationally on a whim with no planning or research at all these days? I suspect that any traveler could look up Yen denominations and coinage in about a min or less (much faster even than I could back in the day with Lonely Planet books where I traveled). I am not sure the focus on these peripheral "enhancements" are worth much for the Olympic visitors. Dare I say "smoke free eateries"? (sorry I brought it up).

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Japan: DO NOT change the wonderful five yen. I agree with who was it?, rainyday, who said it takes about 2 seconds to learn that it's a five yen? Please leave it alone.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. There's nothing wrong with the 5 yen as it is. Even without a '5' on it, how long does it take to learn what it is?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Please, no. I support retiring one yen coins, just as the US should retire pennies, but the 5-yen coin is so iconic, and it costs money to redesign as well. And a romaji 5 even would ruin the aesthetic.

This irks me almost as much as Japan bending to the will of ignorant sjws about the 万字 on Japanese maps. If you can't take the time to learn which coin is which, or read some history to realize the manji isn't offensive and is part of a culture that's different to your own, you should just stay home.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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