Even with a five-year heads-up, Nishitetsu isn’t quite ready.

On Wednesday, Japan’s newly redesigned yen notes went into circulation, featuring a new look for the 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000-yen bills. Ahead of the rollout, the Japanese government has been conducting public awareness campaigns to remind everyone that even though they’ll be seeing the redesigned bills, old-design bills are still legal tender too. There’s no need to run out and exchange your old bills for new ones, and anyone telling you that you need to is trying to pull some sort of scam.

As a matter of fact, there’s at least one place in Japan where not only can you still use the old bills, you actually can’t use the new ones.

Nishitetsu Bus is the primary bus operator in Fukuoka Prefecture, running routes in and connecting the cities of Fukuoka, Dazaifu, and Kokura, as well as providing access to Fukuoka Airport. For passengers paying their fare in cash, there’s a collection box at the front of the bus, near the driver, into which you drop your coins, and also a bill slot for paying larger fares or making change.

▼ The fare collection/change-making machinery can be seen at the point in the video cued here.

However, none of Nishitetsu’s buses can accept the new bills, since Nishitetsu has yet to upgrade/update its onboard machinery to recognize them. Though the new bills don’t differ in size from the old ones, they feature different illustrations, text, and fonts from the old ones, meaning that when the non-updated machines scan them, their sensors judge that the paper that’s been inserted isn’t real money.

What raises this from an inconvenience to a potential problem is that in Japan you pay your bus fare as you get off the bus, so it’s possible that someone could board a Nishitetsu bus, ride it all the way to their destination, and only then realize that, even though they have enough money to cover their fare, they don’t have enough old-design bills to actually pay for it. Making matters worse is that, as per company operating policy, Nishitetsu’s drivers cannot make change for passengers while on their driving shift. So in the event that someone who’s already onboard needs old-design bills to pay for their fare but doesn’t have any, the only solution is to ask the other passengers if any of them have old bills that they’re willing to exchange for new ones.

What’s more, this problem isn’t going to be completely resolved anytime soon. In regards to a timetable for when all Nishitetsu buses will be able to accept the new-design bills, the company says that won’t be happening until sometime around the end of the 2025 fiscal year.

In Nishitetsu Bus’ defense, the company says that roughly 90 percent of its bus passengers make their payments using a prepaid IC card which can be tapped on the in-bus terminal. In keeping with that, the company appears to be prioritizing upgrading the IC card fund-charging machines located at its bus stations to accept the new bills, though even some of those have yet to be upgraded and still only recognize the old bills. It’s not like the introduction of the new bills snuck up on the company, either, as the new designs were announced, and unveiled, more than five years ago, back in the spring of 2019, so it seems like this is a bus-related problem that could have been avoided, and is another reason to keep your IC card charged up.

Source: TBS News Dig, KHB
Top image: Wikipedia/JKT-c
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