Japanese Yen: From Etymology to Historical Exchange Rates

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The is the official currency of Japan. It is the third most traded currency in the foreign exchange market after the United States dollar and the euro. It is also widely used as a reserve currency after the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the pound sterling.

Let’s look at the history of the Japanese yen and how it became one of the most important currencies in the world.

What is the yen

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The Fascinating Pronunciation and Etymology of the Japanese Yen

The Japanese yen is the official currency of Japan, which literally means “round object” or “circle” in Japanese. The word “yen” is derived from the Chinese yuan, which was the standard unit of currency in China during the ancient times. The kanji character used to represent the yen is 圓, which means “circle” or “round”.

Interestingly, the yen was originally minted in the 17th century during the Edo period as a pure gold coin, but it wasn’t until the Meiji government introduced the yen as the official currency in 1871 that it began to be widely used.

How is the Japanese Yen Pronounced?

The pronunciation of the Japanese yen is quite simple and straightforward. It is pronounced “yen” in English and “en” in Japanese.

Here are some examples of how the yen is pronounced in different languages:

  • In Japanese: 円 (en)
  • In Chinese: 圆 (yuán)
  • In Korean: 엔 (en)
  • In Spanish: yen
  • In French: yen

What are the Technical Features of the Japanese Yen?

The Japanese yen is a complex currency with a rich history and a specific set of technical features. Here are some of the main features of the yen:

  • The yen is based on a decimal system, with one yen being divided into 100 sen and one sen being divided into 10 rin.
  • The yen is commonly abbreviated as “JPY” or “¥”.
  • The yen is often rounded to the nearest whole number for convenience, despite the fact that it is worth a fraction of a cent.
  • The yen is used not only in Japan but also in other countries, such as Cambodia and Myanmar, as a way to convert currencies.
  • Despite its current worth, the yen was once a great currency that held a high price in gold, silver, copper, zinc, and nickel.

The Fascinating History of the Japanese Yen

The Japanese yen has a long and storied history that dates back to the early years of Japan’s economy. In the Edo period, the yen took the form of traditional currencies such as gold, silver, and copper coins. However, it wasn’t until the Meiji period that the yen became the official currency of Japan. In 1871, the government adopted the yen as the country’s standard monetary unit, replacing the feudal system of issuing coins.

The Birth of Modern Yen

In 1872, the yen was officially minted as a unit of currency. At the start, one yen was worth about 1.5 US dollars. However, the value of the yen remained steady for many years, even as the economy underwent significant changes. One key element in setting the value of the yen was the government’s fiscal policy, which included supplying the market with a steady amount of yen.

The Yen’s Role in International Exchange

As Japan’s economy grew and expanded abroad, the yen became an important currency for international exchange. In 1971, the yen was officially adjusted to include decimal points, making it easier to use in different countries. Today, the yen is one of the most widely traded currencies in the world, alongside the US dollar and the euro.

The Yen’s Value Over Time

Over the years, the yen has seen its value rise and fall in relation to other currencies. In the early years, the yen was fixed to the value of silver. However, during World War II, the yen fell dramatically in value due to inflation and the government’s decision to print more paper money. Eventually, the yen was fixed to the US dollar, and in 1971 it was allowed to float freely on the market.

The Yen Today

Today, the yen remains an important currency in the global economy. Its value is closely watched by investors and traders around the world, and it is used as a benchmark for many financial transactions. Despite its ups and downs over the years, the yen remains a key part of Japan’s economy and its history.

Some interesting facts about the Japanese yen include:

  • The yen is divided into smaller units called sen and rin.
  • The word “yen” comes from the Chinese word “yuan,” which means “round object” or “circle.”
  • The yen was initially defined as being worth 1.5 US dollars, but this changed over time.
  • The Bank of Japan is responsible for issuing yen banknotes and coins.
  • The yen was officially adopted as Japan’s currency on December 27, 1871, under the Meiji government.
  • The yen was initially defined as being worth 24.26 grams of silver.
  • The yen was reformed in 1873 under the Ōkuma Shigenobu fiscal reform act, which defined the yen as being worth 1.5 grams of gold.
  • The yen remained fixed to the US dollar from 1949 to 1971.
  • The yen fell dramatically in value during World War II due to inflation and the government’s decision to print more paper money.

Tracking the Yen: A Historical Exchange Rate Perspective

If you’re interested in tracking the Japanese yen’s exchange rate against the US dollar over the years, you can find a plethora of historical exchange rate charts online. These charts show the yen’s value against the dollar on a monthly or yearly basis, allowing you to see how the currency has fluctuated over time. Some of these charts are free, while others require a subscription or payment.

Insights from Historical Exchange Rates

Looking at historical exchange rates can provide some interesting insights into the Japanese yen’s value over time. For example:

  • In the 1980s, the yen was on a steady rise against the US dollar, reaching a peak in 1985 when one dollar was worth only 240 yen. This was due in part to Japan’s booming economy at the time.
  • In the 1990s, the yen’s value fluctuated more, as Japan’s economy hit a recession and the country struggled with deflation.
  • In the 2000s, the yen’s value remained relatively stable, with some minor fluctuations due to economic events such as the global financial crisis.
  • In recent years, the yen has been on a slight decline against the US dollar, with one dollar currently worth around 110 yen.

Contacting Experts for More Information

If you’re interested in learning more about the Japanese yen’s historical exchange rate, you may want to contact experts in the field. This could include economists, financial analysts, or currency traders who have experience tracking the yen’s value over time. They may be able to provide more in-depth insights and analysis than what you can find online.


So there you have it- the Japanese yen is the official currency of Japan, and has a long storied history. The yen is based on a decimal system and is divided into smaller units called sen and rin. You can pronounce it “en” in Japanese, and it’s a simple straightforward word. I hope you’ve found this guide helpful and learned a thing or two about the Japanese yen.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.