Saturday, June 22, 2013


Photo by: Soohyun Yang

I had never thought about the yen in the context of Japanese literature until I took Japanese Literature in Translation with Hanami sensei. He just asked a straightforward question, “Who is on the 1,000¥?”

Natsume Sōseki - 1000¥
Natsume Sōseki - 1000¥ Photo by: Soohyun Yang

The class answered, “Natsume Sōseki.” Sōseki is the author of the most celebrated Japanese classic, Kokoro, which depicts the internal conflict of the Japanese people as they begin to absorb more western values during the Meiji Restoration.

What is so intuitive about a famous figure gracing the cover of the most frequently used banknote in Japan? Although I couldn’t pinpoint the insight right away, the juxtaposition of the Japanese yen to the U.S. dollar made it clear that the two nations were telling their stories from different perspectives. The dollar glorifies the founding fathers. Their image represents the importance of political power in the U.S. However, most of the figures on the Japanese banknotes are writers who propelled the nation through the changes in Japan’s social landscape. They exposed the struggles of a nation transitioning into a new era and shaped the image of Japan as a crossroad between the east and the west.

I hope to guide you all through Japan with respect for the value of money and the values of the nation shown within it.


•Prominent writer in the Meiji Era that depicted life in the red light district as well as the suffering of the lower class
Ichiyō Higuchi - 5000¥
Ichiyō Higuchi - 5000¥ Photo by: Soohyun Yang
•Published the English-Japanese Dictionary
•Encouraged the citizens to shape the political and social structure of Japan through his newspaper called Jiji Shinpo
Fukuzawa Yukichi - 10000¥
Fukuzawa Yukichi - 10000¥ Photo by: Soohyun Yang

Soohyun Yang
B.A. International Economics and Japanese Language and Literature 2014
Sigur Center 2013 Japanese Language Fellow
Sendagaya Japanese Institute, Japan

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