We interview Japan’s least-popular form of currency and the only bill not to be getting a slick new face-lift in the near future.

This week, Japan’s Ministery of Finance revealed its redesigns for the Japanese yen, with major cosmetic changes that will add beautiful ukiyo-e woodblock print art and one of Japan’s earliest pioneers of women’s education to country’s banknotes. However, while the 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000-yen bills are enjoying their moment in the spotlight, you’d be forgiven for not knowing Japan also has a 2,000-yen bill, even if you’ve traveled to the country multiple times.

Introduced in 2000, the little-seen bill features the Shureimon, one of the gates to Okinawa’s Shuri Castle, on its front, and a portrait of 10th-century writer Murasaki Shikibu, author of The Tale of Genji, on the back.

However, the Ministry of Finance was conspicuously silent about the 2,000-yen bill during the unveiling of the updated yen designs, and it’s since been confirmed that it will not be redesigned. In the beginning, the Japanese government had big plans for the 2,000-yen bill, the first new paper denomination to be created since 1958. Economists hoped their introduction would encourage more spending by consumers by helping to sidestep the psychological hurdle of having to break a 5,000-yen ($45) bill, which often has people deciding to forgo discretionary purchases instead.

Alas, the 2,000-yen bill has never really caught on (the exact reason why is unclear, but not being able to use them in most vending machines is assumed to be a major factor). Initially, the bank of Japan wanted to have one billion 2,000-yen bills out in the Japanese economy by the end of the year 2000, but so far peak circulation for the bill has been a meager 513 million in 2004. The number has fallen since then, dropping below 100 million since 2014, and the Bank of Japan is sitting on a large surplus of already-printed, yet-to-be-circulated 2,000-yen bills, prompting a spokesperson for the organization to tell reporters:

“Currently, there are large reserves of 2,000-yen bills at the Bank of Japan. In contrast to other bills, which are printed every year, no new 2,000-yen bills are being printed now. Redesigning the 2,000-yen bill would make the reserves obsolete, and so it was left out of the recent redesign.”

Some would call this an embarrassing turn of events for the youngest member of the family of Japanese banknotes, but to see how the 2,000-yen bill itself feels about the whole thing, we decided to go straight to the source, and using the interpretation skills of our reporter Ahiru Neko, interviewed a 2,000-yen bill he happened to have in his wallet.

▼ Ahiru Neko, whose previous forays into hard-hitting financial journalism have included testing whether being crapped on by a pigeon is a wise investment strategy and how much floor space 100,000 one-yen coins take up.

Ahiru Neko: 2,000-yen Bill-san, it’s been a long time. How many years has it been since we last saw each other?

2,000-yen Bill: It’s got to be at least a couple of years now, for sure.

Ahiru Neko: What have you been up to recently?

2,000-yen Bill: You know, just working, like usual. I’m actually pretty popular in Okinawa, you know. They even talk about how big I am there on my Wikipedia page.

Ahiru Neko: The bank of Japan announced redesigns for the yen bills, but, unfortunately, you were not included. How did you feel when you learned you’ve been left out of the project?

2,000-yen Bill: Well, to be honest, they didn’t even talk to me about the redesigns for the other bills ahead of time. I only found out about it from reading SoraNews24.

Ahiru Neko: I see.

2,000-yen Bill: To tell you the truth, my reaction was “Well, I guess that proves that I’m just not keeping up with the other bills in being productive and useful.” But you could also say that’s because I simply haven’t been given enough work to do. So I guess you could say it’s just sort of how things turned out, that I got left out of the redesign due to a variety of factors.

Ahiru Neko: Of course. Even now, on the rare occasion where I get a 2,000-yen bill as change, I find myself wondering “Can I use this in vending machines, or not?’”

2,000-yen Bill: Actually, recently there are some machines that let me in, but yeah, that problem has caused me a lot of mental anguish. Even in cash registers, they have slots set aside for the cashier to put 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000-yen bills in, right? They even make sure there are spots for the one and five-yen coins. But there’s never a place just for me. I have to cram my way into some slot for random bits or credit cards, and then no one notices me when they’re counting out change for the customer. Then at the end of the day, when they close up shop, I just get shipped off to the bank instead.

Ahiru Neko: But might that be because the shop staff are trying to let you down gently? You must hate that awkward confusion when a customer gets you as change.

2,000-yen Bill: Yeah, I guess so. After being treated like that for so long, it’s not really such a shock that I got left out of the redesign, but the next time I’m down in Okinawa, I think I’ll stop by Shureimon and have a good cry.

Ahiru Neko: Thank you for your time.

Like 2,000-yen Bill-san told us, it’s actually pretty popular in Okinawa, since it’s the only piece of Japanese currency on which the country’s southernmost prefecture is represented. As a matter of fact, it’s so well-loved there that you can actually specifically request 2,000-yen bills when you’re withdrawing money from certain ATMs in Okinawa, so consider showing it some love next if you’re ever there.

Related: Okinawa Times
Top image: Wikipedia/Gryffindor
Insert images: Wikipedia/Gryffindor. SoraNews24
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