A New Look for the ¥500 Coin

Society Lifestyle Technology

The Japanese government has announced a new design for the ¥500 coin. The updated version, slated to hit pockets in fiscal 2021, retains the familiar paulownia design but adds a two-tone look and features like microlettering to thwart counterfeiters.

On April 9, Finance Minister Asō Tarō announced the first redesign of Japan’s banknotes and coinage in 20 years. The portraits on the notes, which will appear in fiscal 2024, are set to be replaced.

The image on the ¥10,000 note will change from the educator Fukuzawa Yukichi to Shibusawa Eiichi, the “father of Japanese capitalism”; the ¥5,000 will be updated from the author Higuchi Ichiyō to Tsuda Umeko, a pioneer in women’s education; and the ¥1,000 note will see Kitasato Shibasaburō, Japan’s “father of modern medicine,” replacing Noguchi Hideyo.

The ¥500 coin will also be redesigned for a fresh appearance in fiscal 2021. The coin will keep the current paulownia pattern while incorporating various innovations.

The most obvious change is the bicolor cladding, resulting in different colors for the center and periphery. A Ministry of Finance official notes that the periphery uses the nickel-brass mix of the current ¥500 coins, producing a yellowish color, while the center is cupronickel, which gives the current ¥100 coins their distinctive silver color. In a world first, the contour edging utilizes helical ridges with varied shaping.

Also, in a first for Japanese coins, microlettering will be used on one face to print the words “JAPAN” and “500 YEN.” Such technologies are being incorporated to deter counterfeiting.

The varied ridges on the coin’s edge are produced with a new technology never before used in any coin. (Source: Ministry of Finance)
The varied ridges on the coin’s edge are produced with a new technology never before used in any coin. (Source: Ministry of Finance)

The new coin will weigh just 0.1 grams more than the current one, and the diameter will be exactly the same. Below the number 500, the bamboo leaf motif of the current design will be replaced with the imperial year, but the upper bamboo leaves, the tachibana oranges flanking the number, and the paulownia on the rear will remain. The floral motifs have not changed since 1982, when the ¥500 coin replaced a banknote featuring a portrait of the renowned statesman Iwakura Tomomi.

A Bicolor Look for the New Coin

The periphery of the new ¥500 coin will be a yellowish color and the center will be silver, an effect produced by the use of different metal alloys.

The center of both faces of this “bimetal” coin will be silver-colored, but this center portion will contains a core of a different metal, which is referred to technically as “clad coinage.” Because the new coins will be two-colored on the face and be composed of three layers, they are “bicolor clad.”

The current ¥500 coin is a simple slab of one type of metal, as seen at left. The new one will place a sandwich of three layers in the center of the peripheral ring. (Source: Ministry of Finance)
The current ¥500 coin is a simple slab of one type of metal, as seen at left. The new one will place a sandwich of three layers in the center of the peripheral ring. (Source: Ministry of Finance)

Familiar ¥500 Features

Unlike the new banknotes, which are getting a complete design overhaul, the new coin retains the floral motifs in place on the current ¥500 piece. “We wanted to base the new coins on the ¥500 design that people are familiar with,” says the Finance Ministry official we spoke to. “The bamboo, tachibana orange, and paulownia motifs come from plants that traditionally symbolize good fortune and auspiciousness, which is why they were used in the original design.”

The ¥500 piece being a relatively valuable coin, it has in the past attracted some attention from counterfeiters, as well as people using nearly identically sized coins worth far less—notably South Korea’s 500 won piece—to make purchases from vending machines. The Finance Ministry official notes that the new design should offer improved security. “The current coins are made of a single material, but the new coins are much more difficult to produce. However, we cannot completely rule out all possibilities.” The ministry does not provide specific production details.

Many people would no doubt like to get hold of the new coins as early as possible, but they are not scheduled for minting until early in fiscal 2021. However, the bicolor clad and helical ridge technologies have already been employed in ¥500 coins minted from 2008 as part of the Japan 47 Prefectures Coin Program, so you may find them if you keep your eyes peeled.

(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on April 9, 2019. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)

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coins Fuji News Network Ministry of Finance Shibusawa Eiichi Kitasato Shibasaburō banknotes Tsuda Umeko