In this Aiba Manabu (相葉マナブ), Aiba Masaki-kun explores the basics of Japanese currency with sidekicks Bibiru Oki-san and Suzuki Taku-san.

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The initial investigation starts at a coin shop where we’re introduced to some unusually colorful coins, including beautiful 1000 yen collector pieces with designs for each prefecture.

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Aiba-kun wanted to look at the Chiba coin, but it sounds like Chiba hasn’t gotten its design together yet (any chance they’ll put Aiba-kun’s face on it?). The plan is for these coins to be available from every prefecture by 2016, I think.

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They quickly move on to old paper currency, going all the way back to the early Edo period (three hundred years ago).

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We meet our third specialist for the episode less than four minutes in, and this new guy used to be in the ministry of finance (大蔵省 – ookurashou). This show has turned into a massive undertaking!

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After just starting to talk about paper money, the topic turned to the Bank of Japan and how it operates, and that demands a change in location – to the main building of the Bank of Japan. You might recall that I sensed that the producers of the show were taking snipes at the BOJ’s monetary policy in a previous episode (its attempt to reinflate the currency). This sort of confirms my suspicion that somebody in charge is really interested in the BOJ’s policies.

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This is a extra-special tour of the BOJ.

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There are actual service windows at the central bank, and they justifiably wonder why – it’s not a normal bank, after all. Among the business conducted there, though, is exchange of damaged currency. If you rip or burn a note, they will give you money equal to a part of the whole value according to the table below. For 2/3 of a bill, you get the full amount. For between 2/5 and 2/3 of the original bill, you get half the amount. For less than 2/5, you’re out of luck.

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That’s just one way people can actually make use of the central bank. There are, of course, branches all over the country – 46 in total – but when Aiba-kun asks about Chiba he discovers that there are no offices in Chiba. It’s turning out to be a really sad day for Chiba. It’s not alone, though – Saitama also doesn’t have one.

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Where there is a bank, there has to be a massive vault, right? They get to see the old vault, which sure conveys a pretty strong impression of invulnerability. Those are the largest simple door hinges I’ve ever seen.

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Inside, they see the paper standing ready to become currency. They have to guess how much money one of the stacks will be turned into, assuming each note is 10000 yen.

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There are also cartons waiting for the printing process – possibly to carry out the completed work. They have to guess how much money each one will carry.

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Aiba-kun decides to give one of the empty boxes a lift just to get a sense of its volume before guessing.

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After they figure that out, Aiba-kun wonders how much 100 million yen (around $1 million) would weigh assuming each note is 10000 yen.

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Apparently, each note is around 1 gram, making the calculation really easy – each 100 million yen would weigh around 10 kilos.

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They head to the museum wing, and get a new guide (I think this is the fifth one for the episode, right?).

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The topic this time is the counterfeit-prevention aspects of the bill design.

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The trick with the features is that they can’t be a secret – they have to be publicized so that regular people can check whether bills are real or fake. That demands extra ingenuity to ensure counterfeiters can’t duplicate the designs even if they know all the details.

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According to a graphic, Japan has a really low counterfeit rate – they claim one case to 240 for the euro and 473 for the dollar. But there’s a lot of reason to be suspicious of the logic that this indicates good anti-counterfeiting technology. First of all, they only have statistics of counterfeiters who have been caught – maybe yen counterfeiters are just better at it. Second, the euro and dollar are much more widely used than the yen. Third, they didn’t even bother citing a timeframe for the statistic this time, and I’ve been critical of this show’s statistics before because of outdated or incomplete information.

Moving right along, they checked out the artistry that goes into designing the currency – especially its primary image.

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The currency artists are specialists. You wouldn’t think that it’d be regular work for a person, but with all the money involved . . . .

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They have the usual sorts of numbers about how much money there is in circulation – you know, how many times could you encircle the globe with it (55) and how tall would it be if you stacked it (377 times Mt. Fuji or 1423km). Aiba-kun tried to ask how many Tokyo Domes you could fill with it, but their guide was not prepared for that one. Typical – these guides are all linear while Aiba-kun is in 3-D.

Further exploring banking system basics, Aiba-kun played the BOJ while the other two played Bank A and Bank B.

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What about really battered bills? The central bank collects it from banks, recycles it, and sends out clean bills. The yearly exchange of old bills for new is around 10 billion yen ($100 million)

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The machines involved are really neat:

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So, how long does an average bill last? Around 4-5 years for a 10000 yen note, and only 1-2 years for 1000 and 5000 yen notes.

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The physical bills in circulation, of course, is far less than the money being exchanged because each bill is exchanged frequently and there are also electronic payments and cash substitutes like checks.

And there you have it – a solid informative episode of Aiba Manabu. However, though it conveyed a healthy dose of knowledge, it lacked the activities that make episodes really interesting. All we got were some simple quiz questions. Because of that, I really can’t recommend the episode unless you’re interested in the topic and can understand what they’re saying.

There was a relative lack of Aiba moments, as well, so I don’t think it was a particularly noteworthy episode for Aiba-kun’s fans. There was the Chiba thing, but that was about it.

Still, the show continues to be a real variety show, with fresh topics every time. Even if there’s one soft episode, we can look forward to something better next week with a reasonable chance of getting it.