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B yen

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Photo: TARUMI Kengo

Type “B” Military Yen was issued as the key monetary policy by the U.S. Army in Okinawa under the governance of the United States.
 Okinawa was put under a non-monetary economy for about a year after the War ended, until April 1946, when B yen was first issued at the First Currency Exchange. During the decade from July 1948 to September 1958, B yen was employed as the only legal currency in Okinawa.
 It combined Japanese and English: “軍票”, “MILITARY CURRENCY”, the value, and the letter “B” on the front side, and “軍事布告に基き発行す,” “ISSUED PURSUANT TO MILITARY PROCLAMATION,” on the backside. It consisted of eight values, from 1000 yen, 100 yen, 20 yen, 10 yen, 5 yen, 1 yen, 50 sen1, and 10 sen, and all were paper money.

Surprisingly, it is not much known that B yen was an established legal currency in Japan as well, and in fact, it was actually issued in Japan. 
 The Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers stationed in Japan published the memorandum “Legal Tender” in September 1945 to notify that Type “B” Military Yen would be issued as a part of an occupation policy against the Japanese government. To grant the qualifications as a legal currency to B yen, the Ministry of Finance proclaimed the Ordinance “On the Subsidiary Currency Type ‘B’ Issued by the Allied Occupation Forces” to announce that it is a “legal currency accepted in every region in Japan…employed for all public and private payment…anyone who refuses to receive the payment without justifiable cause shall be punished.”
 As a matter of fact, due to the shortage of new banknotes of Japanese yen right after the changeover of the currency2, the Occupation Forces issued over four hundred million yen worth of B yen in Japan in February 1946. 
 That is, for a certain period after the War, both mainland Japan and Okinawa depended on the two pillars of the Japanese yen and the B yen as the legal currency.

On the one hand, given the policy to put Okinawa under U.S. governance separately from Japan, the U.S. Army issued the special proclamation “Establishment of Standard Currency” in July 1948 to define “Type “B” Military Yen as the only legal currency of the Ryukyu Islands.” Simultaneously, the Ordinance of the Ministry of Finance in Japan was announced as a measure to exclude B yen from the Japanese legal currency. Hence, B yen became literally the only legal currency in Japan and characterized some parts of the Okinawan postwar economy as the “age of B yen” for ten years. 
 On the other hand, although the exchange rate of B yen to Japanese yen was completely equal, a 1:1 ratio, in the foreign exchange, the Japanese yen was set weak to promote exports, as “1 dollar = 360 yen,” and B yen was set strong to promote imports, as “1 dollar = 120 yen.” Thus the initial conditions of postwar restoration completely differed in Japan and Okinawa; as a result, the money income of the Okinawan economy depended on the U.S. military bases and the resource supplies on importations, for which a “military base dependant import economy” overemphasized on tertiary industry was inevitably established. 

Nonetheless, in September 1958, the currency system in Okinawa switched to dollars with the aim of importing foreign currency, and B yen disappeared from the Okinawan economy. (MAKINO Hirotaka)

Returners from trips abroad sometimes display money from that country, but in Okinawan homes where ojii or obaa live, we see B yen or dollar bills in a frame. It was so at the Nakamura house—a nationally designated cultural asset—as well, which somewhat delighted me.
 In Okinawa, the perception of currency differs depending on the generation one is born. For example, it is about how much one paid B yen to build a house, or how much dollars one received as a gift at the wedding, etc. However, I, born after the reversion, who didn’t know but yen, once had mistaken B yen and dollars, speaking to my senior: “Weren’t you using B yen when you were a child? Lucky you,” and got seriously scolded from her that “I may not look like that young but that’s disrespectful!” I was used to seeing the framed B yen, and that made me feel so familiar to the currency, although it was used as the only legal currency in Okinawa for just ten years from 1948 to 1958, a surprisingly short period of time. And that was quite a long ago. But because of the framed bills and that strange name that combines the alphabet and Japanese, it is still a popular topic even today. By the way, about that framed money, I once saw a coin that seemed nothing but a game arcade coin in the neighborhood among B yen and dollars at a certain house. I asked the owner, but the only response was: “I know, it is what it is.” The mystery of the framed money only deepens. (TOMITA Megumi)

Editor’s Note:

  1. Sen is a currency worth one-hundredth of a yen and circulated in Japan until 1953 when it lost its value due to rapid inflation. 
  2. A financial policy in Japan announced in 1946 to issue new yen banknotes and stoppage of the old currency in order to prevent inflation.