Considering the yen’s value these days, visitors to Japan are probably spending their cash so quickly that they are not stopping to examine it too carefully.

But its banknotes say a surprising amount about the country. And on Wednesday, for the first time in four decades, Japan got an entirely new series of bills featuring a trio of 19th- and early-20th century intellectual and cultural titans.

The world’s most traded currencies have little new to say. The familiar faces on American bills have not changed in a century. The euro, reflecting the compromise inherent in its origin, not only shuns people but even real places, featuring instead fictional bridges and buildings. The United Kingdom’s new notes feature 75-year-old King Charles III; China’s renminbi still depicts Chairman Mao Zedong. The Swiss franc once portrayed local personalities such as the architect Le Corbusier, but has recently opted for more generic hands, globes and Alpine landscapes.