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 quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies in place of "25 cent coins", "10 cent coins", and so on.

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".

  • 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 '11 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 '11 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 '11 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. – Mark Hosang Aug 5 '11 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 '13 at 4:42

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.) – Derek Schaab Aug 5 '11 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. – Derek Schaab Aug 5 '11 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 – Derek Schaab Aug 5 '11 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 '11 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 '11 at 7:45

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.

  • 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 '13 at 4:35
  • 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 '13 at 4:37
  • @snailboat あっ、ほんとだ!<<< 遅かった! – user1016 Oct 19 '13 at 4:38
  • @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~。 – l'électeur Oct 19 '13 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. – Tsuyoshi Ito Oct 19 '13 at 22:40

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 '11 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. – The Wandering Coder Mar 27 '15 at 0:41

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