What is the Japanese Word for Money? Learn it, and the Kanji Too!

If you spend any time in Japan, you are going to be dealing with money. The currency that is used in Japan is the yen ¥. Although in Japanese it is actually pronounced “en” without the “y” sound at the beginning.

The interesting thing about yen is that it is roughly equal to one penny. So the prices of things can seem really high at times. “How much is this book? What? Did you just say 1,200 yen?!” That’d be like $12 in America.

So hopefully you’ve got a pretty good grasp on the Japanese numbers 1-100,000 or so. Because you’re going to be throwing out some pretty big ones whenever you buy something.

I’ve got quite a lot of information for you today. In addition to the Japanese word for money, I’ll also give you a brief history on it, and go over a lot of the kanji that share the same radicals and have related meanings.


What is the Japanese word for money?

The Japanese word for money is (kane) which often gets the polite (o) added to the beginning of it to turn it into お金. The kanji can also be used to mean the metal “gold” as money was synonymous with gold back in the day.

Obviously gold is still considered a form of money nowadays, but very few people actually use it to make purchases. Can you imagine yourself paying for dinner at a restaurant with some gold coins? You’d probably get some weird looks!

You will see this kanji as a radical in others with a similar meaning. For example, it is used in the kanji (gin) which means “silver.”

But even though is used for money these days it wasn’t always the one that was used.

The kanji (kai) means shell or shellfish. And a long, LONG time ago, shells were used for money. So, that’s what was used to mean “money” when the written language was created.

When this kanji is used as a radical in other kanji, it usually brings the meaning of money to the new kanji. Here are some examples:

-The kanji for “to buy” is 買う (kau).

-The element for “change” was added to this element for “money” to create (ka) which gives the meaning of “exchanging for money.” It’s only used in compound words like 外貨 (gaika) which means “foreign currency” which is what you would exchange your money for when you’re in a new country.

-They added the kanji for “divide” to the old kanji for money to create the kanji for “poor” 貧しい (mazushii). “If you divide your money, you become poor.” Or something like that!

Conversely, they use the kanji for “gold” and the kanji for “to have” to create a new compound word that is used to mean “rich” 金持ちの (kanemochino). Are YOU a 金持ちの人?

Here are some other words that are related to money and use the kanji for it:

  • 金貨 (kinka) = Gold coin
  • 銀貨 (ginka) = Silver coin
  • 銀行 (ginkō) = Bank
  • 金曜日 (kin’yōbi) = Friday (Lit. “Gold day of the week”)
  • 貸す (kasu) = To lend
  • (hi) = Expense
  • (en) = Yen (this is also the counter used to count yen)
  • (en) = The old kanji for Yen, sometimes used on documents.

Speaking of  and other kinds of paper money, if you want to talk about dollars $ (as in the United States Dollar) then you will use the loan word ドル (doru). Or if you are from Europe, then you might need to know how to say “euroin Japanese. The word you will use is ユーロ (yūro).

Example Phrases

It’s nice to know the individual words for money and such, but how do you use some of these words within the context of a conversation? Here are some phrases that I think will help illustrate what you’ve learned.

お金を貸してくれませんか? (okane o kashite kuremasen ka?)
Would you please lend me some money?

どうしてですか? (Dōshite desu ka?)

帽子を買いたいです。 (bōshi o kaitai desu.)
I want to buy a hat.

本当ですか? いくらですか? (hontō desu ka? ikura desu ka?)
Really? How much is it?

10ドルかかります。 (jū doru kakarimasu.)
It costs $10.

100 円しか持っていません。50円あげます。 (hyaku en shika motte imasen. gojū en agemasu.)
I only have 100 yen. I will give you 50 yen.

それでは十分じゃありません! (soredewa jūbun ja arimasen!)
That’s not enough!

じゃあ、交渉しなければなりませんよ! (jā kōshō shinakereba narimasen yo!)
Well then, you will have to negotiate!

NOTE: that when you use an exact number (like 50) you do not need to use the particle.

Even though you’ll need to know how to talk to people about money, you can actually get an amazing amount of things from the vending machines in Japan.

In addition to the normal things like food and drink, you can also get train tickets, cell phones, and even panties!

So maybe you’ll just have to know how to read it. Either way, you should be alright. By now you know what the Japanese word for money is AND how to read it! Plus you are also familiar with many of the related words to money and their respective kanji.

As I mentioned before, you’ll have to know how to count in Japanese since money and numbers go hand in hand. If you’re totally new and don’t know any of them, and you have five minutes to spare, then click here and learn the Japanese numbers 1-10!

That ought to get you started at least!

Otherwise, if you have any comments or questions about money, or Japanese, let me know by leaving a comment below!



  • Jonathan

    Very interesting. I have some japanese people at my job, and they will find it amusing that I have learned some of their language. Especially the word money. The whole world can relate to money and making/spending it. I found your recordings really helpful. I think writing japanese will be harder than actually speaking it. How do you say, “I get money!”

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Jonathan, that’s pretty cool that you work with some people from Japan. At my work there are a couple of guys from Africa, but no one from any Asian countries.

      To say “I get money” in Japanese you would say:

      watashi wa o kane o ukete iru!

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