Photo/IllutrationEiichi Shibusawa, known as "the father of Japanese capitalism," will replace Yukichi Fukuzawa on the 10,000-yen note for the first change in 40 years. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Industrialist Eiichi Shibusawa (1840-1931) was a formidable rival to statesman Hirobumi Ito (1841-1909) before Ito was chosen as the face on the 1,000-yen bank note in 1962.

Shibusawa was eliminated at the last moment partly because, according to newspaper reports at the time, he did not have the “right looks” for the bill.

It meant, I presume, that he was shown beardless in his portrait.

The presence of facial hair was of critical importance when the technology for preventing currency forgery was not as advanced as it is today.

Depicting every single strand of hair rendered the job much more difficult for counterfeiters.

Unlike the clean-shaven Shibusawa, Ito sported a full white beard.

Politicians and cultural figures have dominated the face on Japan's paper currency. But the government announced April 9 that it will add a businessman to the “gallery” as it redesigns three bank notes for the first time since 2004.

Shibusawa’s portrait will grace the new 10,000-yen note. He will be the third character on the bill of that denomination after Prince Shotoku (574-622) and Yukichi Fukuzawa (1835-1901).

A young bureaucrat who possessed a keen eye for reading the current of the times, Shibusawa retired from government service and entered the business world in the first year of the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

He recalled in his book “Rongo to Soroban” (The Analects and the Abacus) that his decision scandalized his friend, who accused him of “being so blinded by money as to become a merchant.”

But he held fast to his belief that commerce was vital to Japan’s prosperity.

He certainly seems to be an appropriate choice for a bank note.

Given the transition to a cashless society, hard currency may well have shrunk further in prominence by the time the new bank notes start circulating in 2024.

I wonder if “Eiichi in my wallet” will ever become a household expression.

Writing about money, Shibusawa advised his readers, “Earn as much as you can, and spend as much as you can.”

One should not waste money, but being overly reluctant to part with it will not benefit society.

Ideally, money should be spent wisely, but not squandered, in a manner the man on the new 10,000-yen bill would have approved.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 10

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.