Thursday, June 28, 2007

 

The Trouble With Japanese Yen




No, it isn't the weak dollar.

For me it's the fact that the price of any large ticket item is relayed in 10,000s. As in:

"How much did you pay for that Marc Jacobs bag?"

"I paid five 10,000 yen for it."

This isn't so bad if you keep in mind that one 10,000 note is worth roughly about $100 (or slightly less, but for simplicity's sake, let's pretend that $100 could buy 10,000 yen). In the Marc Jacobs bag example, it's easy to simply lop off two zeros and figure out the approximate price in dollars. Things become confusing, however, when you discuss the price of a car, or a house, or even an airline ticket.

If a house costs, oh, say the equivalent of $800,000, no one in Japan is going to say: "The house costs 80,000,000 (eighty million) yen." Instead, they will say to you: "The house costs 8,000 10,000 yen (eight-thousand ten-thousand yen)." Or, in Japanese: "hassen man."

I've never understood how the 10,000 yen note actually became a default tool for counting currency. Yes, the number 10,000 is part of the same numeric system that we all use when discussing money in the west. But why count 10,000 notes? Why not actually say that a house is "eighty-million yen," instead of figuring out how many 10,000 yen notes go into 80,000,000?

And you thought learning kanji was bad enough!

Lots of comments on this post over at Japundit.

Comments:
That's funny. I'm from Spain , and before we adopted the euro our currency was the peseta. We had a coin worth five pesetas, and the coin was informally called one "duro". So one duro = five pesetas. Especially older people always tended to tell the money in duros. Like 1000 duros, which were really 5000 pesetas. Really annoying! :-)
 
Oh, that is annoying! I remember once driving from Holland to Paris before the Euro was introduced, and the pain of buying gas in Belgium. The girl at the register just patiently whipped out her calculator and figured out what everything cost, and it seemed to me she must be so accustomed to doing this. But it also was a small example of how useful the Euro really could be.
 
Can you explain how the Japanese tell time now?
 
I used to work as English-Chinese simultaneous interpreter, and one of the key challenges I encoutered is to translate the figures!!!

Chinese and Japanese have similar system, but English is another thing.

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