Keio University founder Yukichi Fukuzawa is immediately recognizable to anyone living in Japan, his portrait prominently featured on the Japanese ten-thousand yen note. For more than three decades since its first issue in November 1984, Fukuzawa has continued to adorn Japan’s largest denomination banknote even as portraits on other banknotes have changed.
In 1984 is was announced that the one-thousand yen note would feature novelist Natsume Soseki, the five-thousand yen note would feature scholar Inazo Nitobe, and the ten-thousand yen note would feature Yukichi Fukuzawa.
The fact that cultural icons from the Meiji era were chosen for the new banknote portraits became quite a hot topic. There were even newspapers that ran headlines such as “Shigenobu Okuma Defeated” when Fukuzawa became the face of the ten-thousand yen note. Okuma was the founder of Waseda University, a rival school of Keio for more than a century.
Later, the portraits on the one- and five-thousand yen notes would change to feature scientist Hideyo Noguchi and female author Ichiyo Higuchi, respectively. Fukuzawa alone has endured as the face of the ten-thousand yen note.
But who decides whose portrait will be featured on a banknote? The look of Japanese banknotes are discussed between the the Ministry of Finance, who oversees Japan’s currency, the Bank of Japan, who issues the banknotes, and the National Printing Bureau, who manufactures them. The Minister of Finance then approves the final design.
While there is no fixed process for selecting whose portrait will be featured, it is usually a historical figure whom Japanese people can be proud of, someone who is generally well known and may be featured in textbooks. Generally, highly detailed photographs or drawings of the individual are also required as a reference to deter counterfeiting.
So which photograph of Fukuzawa was “highly detailed” enough to be used as a reference for the banknote portrait? Fukuzawa was known to be fond of photography, so there are a few options to choose from. There is, of course, the famous photograph of Fukuzawa posing with the photographer’s daughter at a studio in San Francisco as well as any number of photographs that could have been potential references for a portrait. Among them is the photograph that was eventually chosen—that of a kimono-clad Fukuzawa taken around 1891. He was so pleased with the photo that he insisted it always be used whenever a photo of himself was needed. Photographs of Fukuzawa dressed in western clothes were also considered before finally deciding on this photo, which encapsulates Fukuzawa’s brilliance as an educator and enlightened thinker.
This photograph is thought to have been one of the primary references for the banknote portrait engraved by Edoardo Chiossone, an Italian engraver and painter. Born near Genoa, Chiossone came to Japan at the invitation of the Japanese government and was engaged in engraving the paintings used for stamps and banknotes. The portrait of Empress Jingu, the first to adorn Japanese currency, was also his handiwork. The delicate, inimitable sophistication of his engravings helped deter and prevent counterfeiting.
In addition to Fukuzawa, Chiossone also produced portraits and engravings of other prominent figures from the period, including Takamori Saigo, Toshimichi Okubo, Takayoshi Kido, Tomomi Iwakura, and even the Meiji Emperor himself. In fact, Chiossone is responsible for many of the now-familiar faces we know from the Meiji era. It is said that he produced the Fukuzawa engraving for a Keio student who was working at the Ministry of Finance at the time. While the original copperplate engraving has been lost, it is an interesting coincidence that Chiossone’s portrait of Fukuzawa would eventually be printed on the ten-thousand yen note, the very technology that Chiossone came to Japan to help develop.
Edoardo Chiossone (1833–1898) (Courtesy of the National Printing Bureau Banknote & Postage Stamp Museum)
Fukuzawa’s portrait adorns the Series D ten-thousand yen notes, first issued in 1984, and Series E, issued since 2004. Banknotes have been issued in consecutive alphabetical order since 1946, making Series E the fifth printing of Japanese banknotes since World War II.
The first-ever Fukuzawa banknote (A000001A), issued in 1984, is permanently preserved at the Currency Museum Bank of Japan, while the second (A000002A) was donated to Keio University. When Fukuzawa’s face was chosen again in 2004, the second banknote printed was again donated to Keio. The university held an exhibition in the Old University Library on Mita Campus to commemorate the occasion.
Other newly issued and freshly pressed banknotes were also presented to Fukuzawa’s hometown of Nakatsu in Oita Prefecture, and to Osaka, his place of birth. His selection as the face of Japan’s largest denomination banknote is a testament to his legacy as a great man of education and enlightenment. Today Fukuzawa continues to sit with a watchful eye, looking out for Japan in the 21st century.
Commemorative exhibition held at the Old University Library on Mita Campus (November 2004)
*This article appeared in the 2017 autumn edition (No. 296) of Juku