the japanese yen is a dangerous currency


It is common knowledge that Tokyo is not a city for the thrifty. In fact, according to a February report from the Economist, Tokyo it is the most expensive city on the planet, and has taken the number one spot for all but six years since 1992. According to the Economist, in Tokyo “the average cost of a 2-lb. loaf of bread is about US $9.06.” Perhaps this is why most sandwiches in convenience stores in Tokyo have the crust cut off of them?

At the time I am writing this, the exchange rate is 94 Japanese Yen to one U.S. Dollar. While the latte I am having right now at Segafredo Zanetti near Shinjuku Station only cost ¥440 [U.S. $4.68 – comparable to New York], many other goods and services have astronomical price tags. What makes the Japanese currency so dangerous is the denominations and the fact that it is easy to forget how much you are actually spending.

It is customary to walk around Tokyo with a pocket full of change – big and small. Herein lies the danger. One coin, for example, the gold ¥500 coin, is just slightly bigger than a U.S. quarter. However, while the quarter is worth only 25 cents, the ¥500 coin is currently worth U.S. $5.32. I was spending them freely not quite grasping the gravitas of the spending. A pocketful of quarters and you have enough for one load of laundry; a pocketful of ¥500 coins and you have enough for a very nice dinner. Then there is the ¥100 coin. Just a bit bigger than a nickel and worth more than a dollar.

The paper currency is where you can really spend your life savings without knowing it. There are two notes in common circulation, and using even the larger denomination doesn’t get you very far. The ¥1000 note [U.S. $10.64] gets you little to nothing. The ¥10,000 note [U.S. $106.38], the more common for daily spending, is really the one that will bleed your bank account as dry as a British joke in a Japanese bar. Or a British joke in any bar for that matter.

I suppose given the exchange rate, currency, and cost of living in Tokyo I should just try to survive on lattes. What a hardship that will prove to be. 🙂