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¥500: the most expensive coin in the world, kinda

by Thomas Dillon

Japan . . . it’s not all raw fish. (Nice line. I wonder where I got it.)

No, it’s also home to all sorts of world records, like the world’s shortest escalator (a five-second ride in Kawasaki), the world’s oldest hotel (1,295 years and still going in Ishikawa) and the world’s largest mailbox (seven meters high and finished just this year in Ube, where maybe no one has yet heard of email).

And then one significant other, no doubt weighing you down even as you read: the ¥500 coin — the most expensive coin in the world!

Or rather, the “sometimes” most expensive coin in the world.

For everything is relative. Monetary value depends on the exchange rate and, should “Abenomics” ever switch gears into Abe-astro-economics, things might change — dramatically. One day ¥500 might be worth no more than a stick of gum. Or be enough to buy a Rolex. Who can say?

The economic pendulum may never swing quite so much, but the point is that this is sort of an ongoing race. Think of the ¥500 as Usain Bolt and the Swiss 5 franc coin as some other aspiring sprinter. At times the Swiss have a small lead, but in the long run, the smart money always rests on Bolt.

A bit more qualification: The ¥500 coin! The “sometimes” most expensive coin in the world! Among coins that matter.

For example, in 2011 Australia unveiled a new gold coin weighing more than a ton and worth well over ¥5 trillion.

Not many people carry these in their pockets. And if they did, I’d like to see them try to wrangle change at a 7-Eleven.

And then there are those rare collector coins, which are usually carried in armored trucks, not pockets.

So for all practical purposes — especially if you are in Japan and not Switzerland — the ¥500 is the king of coins.

“Personally, I hate it.”

The speaker is my Japanese wife, who hates very little in this world, other than this and maybe oatmeal.

“It’s too heavy and it takes up too much room in my purse.” I think she means the coin here, but this could be why she hates oatmeal as well.

Anyway, she always breaks her ¥500 coins into smaller denominations — which are no doubt heavier and take up much more room.

So I trade her all my loose change for any ¥500 coin she gets. For I am fond of that big coin, for a bevy or reasons. It’s a relationship I dub “The king and I.”

“What I do is to stick them in a big jar in my kitchen.” This is from a good friend who tells me how he treats the king. “And when the jar is full—

I jump in: “You rain coins from your window on all the peasants below? While laughing like a loon?”

“No. I blow it all. Take a short trip. Stay at a nice hotel. And so on.”

This same friend decorates his living room with a wall hanging made from his own used neckties when, for a jar full of coins, he could have had a genuine reproduction of any piece of art he wanted. Or far better neckties.

“So what do you do?” he asks.

Why, I spin them, of course. For no coin on Earth spins quite like the king.

“I sit in a coffee shop and spin a coin at my table. Over and over again. It’s the most fun ¥500 can buy.”

“What happens if it falls on the floor?”

“The king never falls! Besides, before he does, someone always begs me to stop.”

Or, I tell him, I place a coin over each eye. Nothing looks cooler.

“But how would you know? Your eyes are covered.”

“Photo Booth.”

“And aren’t coins on the eyes some sort of burial ritual?”

I admit that all my Photo Booth selfies look dead. With or without the coins.

“But the best thing to do with a ¥500 coin,” I tell him, you and all the world, “is to spend it.”

For no other single coin (see qualifiers above) has as much punch. I can go into a burger shop, for example, order a fat sandwich, a drink and fries, slap down a single coin and walk away with change. Which I then save to trade with my wife.

In a convenience store, ¥500 pumps you with options. You can buy . . . (cue Christmas music) four candy bars, three soda drinks, two cans of beers, or a bunch of miscellany!

With a ¥500 coin, money doesn’t talk, it roars!

How could the ¥500 coin be better?

Well, it could have a hole, like the ¥50 or ¥5 versions. Then it could be the ¥500 ring coin — stylish and commanding, just as a king should be.

Plus, with a hole, I would never need Photo Booth. I could see how stupid I looked with only a mirror.

Stupid but happy. A look that most coins just cannot buy.

Competition: What’s the most fun money can buy?

Spend it, save it, spin it, share it: How do you get the most from the ¥500 coin?

Send ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp or tweet them with the hashtag #500yen for a chance to win prizes, including ¥5,000 in goods from The Meat Guy (www.themeatguy.com — details to come). Closing date: Friday, Dec. 6, at 5 p.m. Here are some ideas:

• Stick one up a nostril and amaze your Japanese friends.

• Blow it all on the fanciest cocktail on the menu at a “one coin bar.”

• Put it down on a dead cert at the races and walk away smiling.

• Have a pauper’s night out at the convenience store: ¥120 on booze, ¥150 for noodles, ¥110 on dessert, ¥120 for coffee.