Japan’s New Bank Notes Draw Criticism from South Korea

As the Japanese government and the Imperial Family prepare for the introduction of the new ‘Reiwa’ era, Japan’s central bank has announced redesigned bank notes for the 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000-yen bills to coincide with the new era. The new bills will be introduced in the first half of 2024 and will include new technology to prevent counterfeiting, including 3D holograms that make it look like the images on the bills are moving. The new bills will feature Eiichi Shibusawa on the 10,000 bill, Umeko Tsuda on the 5,000 bill, and Shibasaburo Kitasata on the 1,000 bill.

The redesigned bills have drawn both support and criticism in both the style of the new bills and the new portraits featured on the notes. While the designs drew criticisms for straying away from current designs, most were supportive of the inclusion of Umeko Tsuda on the bill. Tsuda is the founder of Tsuda University in Tokyo and was a pioneer of education for Japanese women in the early 20th century. Similarly, Nobel-prize winning Shibasaburo Kitasata was a well-regarded Japanese physician and bacteriologist. The choice of Eiichi Shibusawa, however, drew criticism from South Koreans. While Shibusawa is renowned in Japan as the ‘Father of Japanese capitalism,’ Shibusawa is also noted for establishing the Dai-ichi Bank in Korea and circulating bank notes in the country in the 1880s, thereby creating Korea’s de facto central bank. This move further eroded Korea’s independence prior to Japan’s annexation of the Korean peninsula in 1910.

Given the push-back in South Korean media over the inclusion of Shibusawa on the 10,000-bank note, the South Korean government has not officially commented on the redesigned bank notes. This news however, comes on the heels of recent lawsuits filed by South Koreans against Japanese companies over compensation for forced wartime labour during the Second World War. Previously, South Korean courts ruled in favour of South Korean victims and held Japanese companies like Mitsubishi and Nippon Steel liable for compensation, a move that drew criticism from the Japanese government and has strained relations between the two nations.