Did you know that when it comes to money, Japan only has three different bills? On the other hand, they have six coins that help make up for it! Today’s lesson will go explain how to say money in Japanese in several ways.
The first section will talk about the most common word for money, and will talk a little about Japan’s currency system and how it compares with what we use in the USA.
Then I’ll talk about some alternative money words like cash, changes, and various types of coins. Check it out to learn all about Japanese money!
The Japanese Word For Money
The most common word for money in Japanese is お金 (okane) and is the safe one to use whenever you are out and about in Japan and need to ask how much something is.
This word originally meant “gold” or sometimes “metal” and you will still occasionally see it used as a part of other words with one of those meanings.
But when we add on the polite お (o) to the front of the word, we are referring to money specifically. This is one of those words that you could potentially use without the prefix, and just say かね (kane), but nearly everyone uses the お so it’s a good habit to practice.
The currency that is used in Japan is the yen which is denoted by the symbol ￥ typically. Although it might actually be more common to see that outside of Japan.
In Japan, they often use the kanji 円 (en) which means the same thing.
One notable difference is that the Japanese don’t use fractions when they count money. For example, in America we might say that something is $4.95 and that “.95” part is a fraction of a dollar.
In Japan, they count by the individual yen so they would say ¥495 which would be read as “four hundred and ninety-five yen.”
Because of this, the prices of everyday things (like the price of lunch) can easily be in the thousands range.
The exchange rate between the dollar and the yen fluctuate, but generally speaking you can just do a 100:1 ratio to get a close estimate of what the price of something is in Japan and what the equivalent would be in America.
So if someone hands you a thousand yen bill, it’s really just about ten dollars.
In fact, the only bills that they have in Japan are the following:
- 1,000 yen bill
- 5,000 yen bill
- 10,000 yen bill
To make up for the largeness of these, they have six different coins that they use to “fill in the gaps” left by the bills. Because of this, and also due to the fact that Japan is a cash heavy society, many people carry a small coin pouch around with them.
Here is a list of the coins that they have:
- 1 yen coin
- 5 yen coin
- 10 yen coin
- 50 yen coin
- 100 yen coin
- 500 yen coin
So as you can see, there are quite a few of them. Now let’s take a look at how to talk about cash, both bills and change in Japanese.
The Japanese Word For Cash
The Japanese word for cash is 現金 (genkin) and you will probably want to have a decent amount of it on you when you travel around in Japan. I’ve heard that having 3,000 yen is a good amount.
One reason is because a lot of places still only accept cash for payment. Another reason is because a lot of the ATMs close at 6pm!
This means that if you’re out in the evening and you want to get something to drink or eat at a local join, you might not be able to pay for it.
At any rate, you can always ask a person who works at the establishment if they accept cash or credit cards for payment.
- genkin ka kādo de yoroshii desu ka?
- Is cash or (credit) card okay to use?
Be on the lookout for places that have signs that say 現金のみ (genkin nomi) on them since this means “cash only” in Japanese.
In English, the word “cash” is synonymous with “instant payment” and means that you will give the other person money that they can use that instant, compared to paying by check or card where they have to wait a few days to receive the full amount.
In Japanese, the equivalent word is 即金 (sokkin) which means “instant payment” but can also be used when referring to a cash transaction.
The Japanese Word For Change
When we talk about “change” in English what we really mean is the money that we get back from a transaction when we overpaid in cash.
In Japanese, this word is お釣り (otsuri) which also has that polite お that we talked about earlier.
- juu en no otsuri desu.
- Here’s your 10 yen in change.
Sometimes we use the word “change” when referring to a small amount of money that we can really spend on anything that we feel like. Maybe some gum, perhaps an ice cream, etc.
This word in Japanese would be 小遣い (kozukai)
- kodomo ni kozukai o ageru.
- Give pocket change to a kid.
Copper, Silver, And Gold Coins
In a lot of fantasy games or stories, they use copper, silver, and gold coins as their currency. Because of this, these words are pretty common to see when your watching a fantasy anime or reading the manga.
I figured that I would include those words here so that you can become familiar with them.
Here are all three of them now:
- 銅貨 (douka) = copper coin
- 銀貨 (ginka) = silver coin
- 金貨 (kinka) = gold coin
As you can see from all three of these, the first half denotes the metal, or the type of coin that it is, and then the second have functions as the word “coin” in English. It doesn’t literally translate this way, but that’s a useful way of understanding it in this situation.
Another word that sometimes gets used for gold coin is 小判 (koban) which is really a large oval gold coin that has historical roots in Japan.
If you’ve ever seen that lucky cat that waves one of its paw at customers, you will probably have seen the 小判 that it holds in its other paw.
Show Me The Money!
Now you know all about money in Japanese.
If you visit Japan, then you can typically exchange your money for yen at the airport or at a nearby bank depending on your situation.
If you’ve got any comments or questions, let me know by typing them down below. Thanks!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: