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Short Changed


In case you haven't noticed, there's been a recent shift in the world of Japanese money. Now there are new JY500 coins and JY2000 bills in circulation, and Pam Stoikopoulos and Melanie C. Redmond get their money-grubbing hands on the newly legal tender.

The Japanese mint has been in high drive this summer working hard to provide crisp new notes and sparkling new coins to the general public. First, in July, they issued the JY2000 bill not only to commemorate the Okinawa G-8 summit and to celebrate the year 2000, but also to help the general public learn how to count by twos. The JY2000 notes have a design on one side taken from a scene from "The Tale of Genji," and a design on the other side featuring a picture of Shureimon, a landmark example of Okinawan architecture built under the Ryukyu Dynasty in the early 16th century. In addition, the new and improved JY500 coin was released on August 1, 2000. The old cupro-nickel composition will be phased out and replaced by the nickel brass coin. It's a lighter load in the pocket-an entire 0.2 grams less than the older version. According to the Ministry of Finance, Mint Bureau, it also features "a latent image and a helical milled edge." While the artistic design of the coin-almost identical to the old one-holds little interest, the motivation behind its conception is an episode in underworld drama.

Changing change
First launched in 1982 to replace the JY500 note, the current coin has been a thorn in the side of the Japanese Mint ever since a handful of crafty criminals figured out a way to counterfeit it. By filing down the crane pattern on the Korean 500 won coin, worth about JY50, crooks were able to achieve the exact weight of the JY500 coin. In any other country, this would be a pointless exercise: who would be stupid enough to take a noticeably altered Korean coin for it's Japanese counterpart? Japan's over 2.5 million vending machines were, as it turns out.

Since the machines are designed to change up to JY10,000 at a time, when you throw a coin into the machine and hit cancel, what you get back is usually a different coin than the one you used because the machines draw change from a reserve pool of coins. Knowing this, the offenders inserted the counterfeit coin into a drink or ticket dispenser, pressed the "coin return" button and retrieved a new JY500 coin, pocketing a JY450 profit.

While this slow, tedious way of stealing lacks the glamour of a giant bank robbery or a jewel heist, the end result is the same: big bucks. In 1999 police in Japan seized over 820,000 of the altered coins, representative of a heavy profit for the thieves-not to mention a huge loss for the companies scammed-of JY369,000,000 in change. Had the thieves been caught, they would be in jail for a long time for their trickery: counterfeiting currency, altering genuine currency and using counterfeited or altered currency is punishable by three years to life in jail (Article 148, Paragraph 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code of Japan).

Due to the creation of false coinage and the issuance of a new JY500 coin, it's nearly impossible these days to find a machine that accepts the old JY500 coin. The new coin's lighter weight will make it nearly impossible to duplicate, but it's highly likely that the scam artists will still try to find alternative ways to short change people.

Mistake noted on JY2000 bill
In other shifty monetary news, it looks like around 9000 of the new JY2000 notes issued by the Bank of Japan contain a misprint. According to officials of the Finance Ministry, misprinted notes have serial numbers beginning with the letter J on the upper left corner and serial numbers beginning with the letter L on the bottom right corner. The serial numbers should be identical, both beginning with the letter L and ending with the letter Z.

Misprinted legal tender bear serial numbers between L726001Z and L735000Z. If you find one in your wallet, don't worry about being stuck with a bogus bill-the misprinted JY2000 bills are still worth JY2000, and you can always go to your local bank to get a new (correctly printed) one. With security features like watermarks, latent images, color-shifting ink, ultrafine-line printing, intaglio printing, microprinting and luminescent ink, one little serial number typo is nothing to worry about.

As the JY2000 note and the new JY500 coin become more commonplace, there is still one group yearning for yen. With millions of vending facilities unable to accept the new bills and coins, someone will have to create machines that will-and vending machine makers are sure to welcome the change.


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