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Large-format print of the new banknotes at the National Printing Bureau, Kita-ku, Tokyo,on June 28, 2023. (©Sankei by Masahiro Sakai)

Japan is releasing three new banknotes in July. One is the new 10,000 yen note featuring Eiichi Shibusawa, revered as the “father of modern Japanese economy.” However, the primary aim of this release is to combat counterfeit currency. 

According to the National Police Agency, 681 counterfeit bills were discovered in 2023. That is a staggering 1/30th of peak counterfeit levels in the post-2000 era. 

Several factors have contributed to this decline, including a surge in cashless transactions and reduced use of cash. Nevertheless, historically famous unsolved counterfeit crimes also dot the narrative of counterfeit bills. Referred to as “ganpei” in police slang, legends of counterfeit money abound around the world. So what is it that has newly caused such a stir?

Legends of Counterfeit Money

According to senior police officials, during Japan’s rapid economic growth in the mid-20th century, there were a series of well-known counterfeit currency cases. These involved the printing and circulation of highly technical and sophisticated counterfeit bills. One was the Chi-37 case, which started in 1961. Known as Japan’s “largest post-war counterfeit currency case,” it expired in 1976 when the crime reached the statute of limitations.

The Chi-37 incident involved circulating a large volume of counterfeit 1,000 yen notes. This prompted a portrait change on the bill from Prince Shotoku to Hirobumi Ito. For the incident’s name, “Chi” was chosen due to its resemblance to the Japanese character for “thousand.” Its number, 37, shows that it was the 37th counterfeit bill to be discovered.

One police official related, “In the past, some criminals were driven by a craftsman’s mentality. They were [making counterfeit bills] not merely for profit, but to showcase their printing skills.”

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