The present article suggests that expressions of Japanese identity may be more malleable and receptive to international influences than is usually thought. Through a study of the evolution of images printed on Japanese banknotes and of the political processes behind that evolution, the article shows Japanese state elites consciously following international models of identity content. In particular, it describes the shifts in Japanese banknote iconography in the early 1980s and again in the early 2000s as the product of a drive for conformity with the iconographic norms of European currencies. The state has been the main protagonist in this story, but for a full accounting of the magnitude and pace of iconographic change on the yen, it is necessary to unpack the “black box” of the state.
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