Paper Money

Revision to bank note in Japan triggers revival of agriculture

Japan’s use of white bark mitsumata in making the paper for its bank notes may be triggering a revival of domestic agriculture for growers of the plant.

Images courtesy of Jiji Press.

Japan will be issuing a new 10,000-yen bank note in 2024 to replace the current one, which was last revised in 2011.

There won’t be a debate over whether it should be made of polymer or a cotton fiber because it will be made of neither. The Bank of Japan will use the bark of the mitsumata shrub, a plant also known as oriental paper bush (edgeworthia chrysantha). Instead, the debate could be about where the material is grown.

Hiromi Paper Inc. describes mitsumata as being used in making paper since as early as 614, and that it is used by the Japanese government for the fineness of its fibers that are turned into smooth and dense papers and ability to repel insects. It says that cultivation began in Japan about 200 years ago.

The news about the new bank note and the realization that Japan’s National Printing Bureau now imports over 90 percent of its mitsumata is spurring domestic growers to seize back their market. Only 16 tons of the white bark mitsumata used in bank notes were produced in Japan in 2018, mainly in the western regions of Chugoku and Shikoku. That is 70 percent lower than 10 years earlier, and is mainly due to aging farmers.

Now, a new group of farmers are motivated. One in the Chugoku region told, “We want to supply domestic mitsumata of which we have pride in the quality.”

Things are progressing. Nepari, a company in the Shikoku region, annually produces around 3 to 4 tons of processed mitsumata for bank notes, mainly using plants grown in-house. The company planted an additional 10,000 mitsumatas this year, and it plans to increase the number to more than 50,000 next year by using nearby abandoned farmland.

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