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This question about alternate terms for coins focused on the use of ワンコイン, but it got me thinking about slang terms for money in general.

In all the years I've been in Japan, I don't think I've regularly heard people use slang terms for money they way they do in, say, North America.

In Canada, everyone routinely uses "loonies" to refer to the one dollar coin.

A guy from the US recently said to me, "it's all about the Benjamins." Bucks, greenbacks, cheddar, and more are a matter of regular conversation.

I could probably say, "it's all about the Fukuzawas," but I think they would see it more as me at play than using a commonly accepted slang.

On the coin level, in North American English, we almost exclusively use nickels and pennies in place of "5 cent coins" and "1 cent coins", for example.

By contrast, I can't think of anyone referring to a hundred yen coin in any way except its value, 百円{ひゃくえん}.

Am I right in thinking that Japanese on the whole don't really feel a compulsion to give nicknames to their units of currency? A little web searching hasn't turned up a wealth of terms that I was unaware of, but my Google-fu is always a little lacking in Japanese.

By the way, bonus karma points for anyone who can translate "it's all about the Fukuzawas." I can't figure out how to convey the vague "it" part which refers in a vague way to life or living or "the reason to do stuff".

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  • Interesting question (I was thinking the same thing when reading Mark's question). But I think you should perhaps try to keep it focussed on the main topic: "what are slang terms for unit of currency in Japanese" or similar. Discussion on "All about the benjamins" and similar expressions seems a bit of a separate topic (but could definitely warrant its own question).
    – Dave
    Aug 5, 2011 at 4:42
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    yes, "benjamins" is definitely part of the lexicon of slang words for money in US English. "All about the benjamins", though, is a set expression and a bit beyond simple slang words for currencies... Basically, I was just suggesting streamlining the question a bit...
    – Dave
    Aug 5, 2011 at 5:25
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    I'll certainly hear you on that one, but you will have no doubt noticed a direct relation between a question's brevity and the number (if not quality) of its answers. I think even quality contributors might be more inclined to answer questions that are formatted concisely and as narrowly as can be.
    – Dave
    Aug 5, 2011 at 7:03
  • @dave tweet questions have a different problem and shouldn't be used as evidence to support your claim. Be this is neitehr here nor there. Aug 5, 2011 at 8:36
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    it's all about the Fukuzawas 地獄の沙汰も金次第・・・とかかな?
    – user1016
    Oct 19, 2013 at 4:42

4 Answers 4

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My Google-fu isn't doing any better, so the best I can do is throw my single data point into the ring and say that I have heard, on multiple occasions, "Yukichi" (not "Fukuzawa") used in colloquial conversation to refer to a 10,000-yen note. So if you really wanted to, I suppose you could say something like:

大事なのは財布に諭吉がいるかいないかってことさ。 The important thing is whether you've got the Yukichis in your wallet.

At which point you take one last draw on your cigarette before flicking it away and riding off into the Tokyo sunset on your tricked-out Vespa.

Historically, we have to remember that all throughout the Tokugawa period traditionally, the merchant class was at or near the low end of the totem pole (see note), and so the enshrinement of capitalism we see in many Western countries never really found its way to Japan. This may account for the relative lack of "colorful" terms for referring to money in Japanese. (Warning: this is all armchair historian talk and highly speculative.)


※ sawa brought an undefended claim against this statement, so I will attempt to clarify here. The idea that the merchant class was regarded as one of the lowest feudal classes derives from Confucian philosophy, which played a large part in the formation of Japanese culture. The merchant profession, being one in which money was gained without producing any goods or (seemingly) contributing any value to society, was often looked on less than favorably by the rest of the populace. (For more information, see The Making of Modern Japan by Marius Jansen or Japan: A Modern History by James McClain.) This is not to say that all merchants were corrupt (only some were, as in every society), nor is it to say that they did not play an important role in the formation of modern Japan (they certainly and emphatically did). As with many traditional ideas, this view of merchants faded with time, and is entirely absent in today's Japan.

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    @sawa: Instead of flaming me, could you please provide a reference so I can check on this? The text we used in a Japanese history class I took in college claimed that as far as occupations went, being a merchant was not highly regarded in Tokugawa Japan, and was even treated with contempt by some. If this is incorrect, please refer me to a more accurate account. (On the other hand, if this statement is historically accurate, I fail to see how it can be "politically incorrect" and "insulting" to talk about historical fact.) Aug 5, 2011 at 14:20
  • @sawa: I have edited my answer to clarify my original statement, based on texts available in my library. I have also politely requested that you provide references to support your claims, but have received nothing. I am genuinely interested in learning whether I am incorrect, but having you say "You're wrong, I'm right, so there" is not helping me. Aug 5, 2011 at 16:16
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    Well I wish I could figure out what sawa's trying to say (seeing as he was the one who brought up the word 士農工商), but apparently my foreign barbarian ears are not to be privy to such highly guarded secrets… sigh Aug 5, 2011 at 20:43
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    Just a note that the Japanese Wikipedia entry for 士農工商 is a pretty good intro to the issues with the word, and accessible even by barbarians! ("Conan, what is best in life?" "Well-documented patterns of lexical change.") I won't presume to speak for sawa and try to explain it myself here, though.
    – Matt
    Aug 6, 2011 at 4:55
  • I'm marking this as correct because I think the reality is that the answer is simply "no, there are no widespread slang terms for money", but this answer at least tries to get at why that might be. Plus, bonus points for the tricked out vespa.
    – Questioner
    Aug 8, 2011 at 7:45
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Although not a word, the only "slang" I've ever "heard" for money is to rub your thumb back and forth across the tips of your middle and index fingers; often accompanied by これ ("money") or どうですか? ("Are you making money?").

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    Thank you for answering. I feel that the gestures and words you refer to, though, aren't representative of slang and are actually kind of general across languages, not particular to Japanese. But I do appreciate you at least trying to think of something that might apply.
    – Questioner
    Aug 6, 2011 at 0:39
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    Although I would argue with money in general in Japan it is very boastful to talk about it and so hand gestures are more commonly used for things like money (as @istraci said, rub your thumb back and forth across the tips of your middle and index fingers, also using your index finger to thumb to make a circle shape), embezzlement (sticking your right hand inside the left hand side of the body of the suit etc. Mar 27, 2015 at 0:41
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Most of these may be more colloquialism than slang but for what it's worth:

[文]{もん} as in the word [文無]{もんな}し、[万札]{まんさつ} for 一万円札、ピン[札]{さつ} for "a brand-new bill"、ドル[箱]{ばこ} means "gold mine", "money tree", etc.、 おあし(御足) is slang for money.

There should be more if not a whole lot more. Just listing off the top of my head the ones that I rarely, if ever, hear/see Japanese learners use.

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    あと「[先立]{さきだ}つものが・・」とか「[懐]{ふところ}が・・」とかはどうでしょう
    – user1016
    Oct 19, 2013 at 4:35
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    あと、キャッシュのこと、ガラの悪い人が「[現]{げん}ナマ」とか・・
    – user1016
    Oct 19, 2013 at 4:37
  • @ちょこれーと 「現ナマ」て、どんな世界に生きてはんねん!コワいわ~。
    – user4032
    Oct 19, 2013 at 4:45
  • Among the words you listed, I do not think that ドル箱 counts as an answer to the current question. It does not mean money but it means something which produces money. Oct 19, 2013 at 22:40
  • @Dr. Ito I explained what it meant, did I not? Or are we not even permitted to give an extra word for the learners' future reference o this website?
    – user4032
    Oct 20, 2013 at 1:08
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I saw a tweet that led me here. The person is a doctor and Japanese translator living in Austria. He made me wonder if it was true so I checked Google like a good millennial who speaks and reads, writes, breathes North American English... Google Translator is no way my failsafe but since I didn't feel like emailing my college professor for East Asian History from 8 years ago I decided to check. The tool can be quite accurate at times. Looks like money did mean something with Yukichi as stated years ago here by a commentor. But the Satoshi thing was also interesting given that its 2022. And well... enough said. The tweet was claiming that "Satoshi" is slang for 10000-yen in Japanese writing.

Looks like whether it referred to "yen" or "money" Yukichis definitely translate to something many regard as a unit of currency, if not the creator of its implementation as a proper noun...

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