With Japan’s New Money Out, Whither the 2000 Yen Bill?

With Japan’s New Money Out, Whither the 2000 Yen Bill?

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Pictures: ヤスン子; and yamasan / PIXTA(ピクスタ) ; Canva
There's a lot of excitement around Japan's new money. But what will happen to the increasingly rare 2000 yen bill?

The nearly obsolete 2000 yen bills were not included in the new series of Japanese yen banknotes issued on July 3, 2024.

On July 19, 2000, then Prime Minister Keizo Kobuichi issued the 2000 yen bill as a centerpiece for the “Millennium Project.” Another notable occasion for the new bill, the first of its kind since the 10,000 yen note introduced a new denomination, was to commemorate the G8 Kyushu-Okinawa Summit. On its first day of issuance, the bill attracted considerable attention, leading to long lines of eager customers at banks and ATMs.

The design of the 2000 yen bill

Picture: Shutterstock

This is the only bill that does not have a portrait of a significant Japanese individual on the bill. Instead, pictured is the Shureimon Gate of the Shuri Castle in Okinawa, an important cultural and historical sight of the Ryukyu Kingdom.

Tourists consider the Shuri Castle, especially the Shureimon, a must-visit spot. After being designated as a National Treasure in 1933, authorities destroyed the Shureimon during World War II and restored it in 1958. In 2019, a fire burned down Shuri Castle, but authorities scheduled its restoration to complete by 2026. Today, the Shuri Castle and numerous other ruins near the sight are registered as a World Heritage Site as the “Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu.”

The back side of the 2000 yen bill features an image illustrating an excerpt from Genji Monogatari (源氏物語). Known in English as The Tale of Genji, it is a classic story written during the Heian Era (early 11th century).

The drawing, called The Suzumushi depicts former Emperor Reizei and Hikaru Genji during a moon-viewing party. It’s overlaid with text from The Suzumushi in traditionally-styled Japanese.

In addition, the bill features a portrait of Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部), the author of the Genji Monogatari. The portrait is from a picture scroll titled Murasaki Shikibu nikki emaki (紫式部日記絵巻), created during the Kamakura era. It is designated as a national treasure of Japan.


Why a 2000 yen bill?

The issuance of a 2000 yen bill in 2000 marked the first time in Japanese history. Authorities patterned it after the “2” denomination common in many Western countries, including the US $20 bill, the British £20 note, and the EU’s €20 note. Given the success of the “2” bills in Western countries, Japan also decided to implement the 2000 yen bill.

The Bank of Japan even promoted the new banknote in ads. “Go out to town and experience the convenience of the 2000 yen bill for yourself. For example, you can use fewer bills during checkout and receive less change. Your wallet, previously bulging with 1000 yen bills, will become slimmer.”

Where did it go?

Picture: enterFrame / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Yet, the 2000 yen bill has steadily disappeared from the wallets of Japanese consumers.

According to The Bank of Japan, the number of 2000 yen bills has plateaued at around 100 million bills since 2011. This is far below its target distribution amount of one billion pieces at the time of issuance. In 2024, there are less than 100 million bills distributed across the country. Even at its peak in 2004, national distribution reached only 500 million bills. Production has stopped since 2003. 

On the other hand, the number of 2000 yen bills distributed in Okinawa prefecture is growing at a steady rate, according to the Bank of Japan Naha Branch.

Over the last year, the number of 2000 yen bills in Okinawa prefecture alone has hovered around eight million bills. This accounts for roughly 80% of the 2000 yen bills distributed nationwide. Even more, all ATMs at the Ryukyu Bank in Okinawa prefecture have a “2000 yen bill priority button” built into the system, allowing customers to draw out 2000 yen bills whenever they would like.

Some individuals and companies are working to revive the 2000 yen, establishing a volunteer group called the “2000 Yen Bill Dissemination Committee.” They have been engaging in grassroots activities to advocate for the cultural significance of the 2000 yen bill.

Why the 2000 yen bill isn’t in greater use

Outside of Okinawa prefecture, the scarcity of the 2000 yen bill is evident not only in the statistics but also in its practicality. Given its rarity, people may keep it tucked away in their drawer at home.

The 2000 yen bill is also impractical in some situations. Certain cashier machines, vending machines, and buses do not accept it. Many buses only accept 1000 yen bills; in such cases, the bus driver will exchange money for you. Therefore, this issue is not unique to the 2000 yen bill.

Although bills with the number “2” are commonly used in other countries, the 2000 yen bill in Japan has failed to integrate successfully into the daily lives of Japanese consumers. In an interview for NHK Hokkaido, Hideaki Hirano, professor of business at Hosei University, explained that the Japanese public did not fully embrace the use of 2000 yen bills due to the slower issuance compared to other countries.

Hideaki added that Japanese people are more accustomed to using other bills. This makes it difficult for the 2000 yen bill to penetrate the market. 

Is there a future for the 2000 yen bill?

The recently issued Japanese yen banknotes do not include the nearly obsolete 2000 yen bills. Despite its unique cultural and historical motifs, the bill struggled to gain widespread acceptance among Japanese consumers and has largely faded from circulation.

Cashless payment options like PayPay and Suica cards continue to grow in popularity. Given that, the future of physical currency itself – and not just unconventional denominations like the 2000 yen bill – remains uncertain.

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