“Ah, the many sleuths among you!”, by Stanley Pranin

As I sit down to write this, 17 of the sleuths among you took the time to write down your views on the seven points I listed as “common misconceptions about aikido.” Job well done, guys! I recommend everyone read these comments.

What do you say we have some more fun? Are you up for a little more detective work? Ok, this is what we’re after… historical exchange rate equivalencies between the Japanese Yen and the US dollar. Here’s why:

“After he returned from the scouting expedition, O-Sensei began to promote a group settlement in Hokkaido and received a tremendous response. Fifty-four heads of families applied, for a total of eighty people in all. With the exception of a few families, however, most of the prospective settlers couldn’t afford the costs of relocation. O-Sensei asked his father Yoroku to contribute ten thousand yen as financial support for these less well-off families. an amount equivalent to two or three hundred thousand dollars in present-day money.” [1912]

A Life in Aikido, by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, p. 86

“The money [the Ueshibas] needed for the move [to Ayabe], about ten thousand yen, was raised through a five-year loan using O-Sensei’s inheritance from his father as collateral.” [1920]

Ibid, p. 117

Do the two quotes above not seem somewhat at odds to you? Think through the implications. Imagine that you are imprisoned like the Count of Monte Cristo in the Château d’If, and have plenty of time on your hands to reflect and analyze!

These elusive exchange rate equivalencies will come in handy in other instances where large sums of money are mentioned at key intervals in O-Sensei’s life. Here are the questions to be answered:

How much was ¥10,000 in 1912 equivalent to in today’s money?

How much was ¥10,000 in 1920 equivalent to in today’s money?

Please come up with the approximate equivalencies and links to the sources you used to determine the amounts in today’s money.

The answers to these questions will help us solve another controversial monetary issue that would haunt Morihei for many years and place his character in question. I’ll save that story for another time.

Lend me your brain power!

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  1. Onegashimasu,

    Some quick research gave me the following information.

    The gold standard was adopted in Japan in 1871 with “The new currency act”. By the turn of the century it was fully implemented. []

    Several sources indicates a fixed rate of 50 cents per 100 Yen both 1912 and 1920. The provided source agrees with these rates but also states that the Yen started to float in 1917.[]

    But a fair assumption seems to be that:
    10 000 Y = 5000 USD (1912 & 1920)

    As for inflation that’s more tricky (and I’m no economist). However Measuring Worth [] provides the following data using CPI (Consumer Price Index) which might not be the best measure (I refer to the Babe Ruth’s salary example provided on the site).

    10 000 Y (1912) = 10 600 000 Y (2009)
    10 000 Y (1920) = 60 000 Y (2009)

    5000 USD (1912) = 114 000 USD (2009)
    5000 USD (1920) = 53 500 USD (2009)

    And now I hope that an economist will peer-review this for me :-)

    With Delight!

  2. Roberto says:

    Hi Stan!
    I found this page:
    The 5th link can be used to calculate the value of JPY from 1912 to 2009.

    1. JPY 10,000 (1912) -> JPY 10,600,000 (today, actually 2009)
    Conversion JPY 1 = USD 0.01296 (03.08.2011)
    So, JPY 10,000 (1912) -> JPY 10,600,000 (2009) = USD 137,376 (today)

    2. PY 10,000 (1920) -> JPY 4,760,000 (today, actually 2009)
    Conversion JPY 1 = USD 0.01296 (03.08.2011)
    So, JPY 10,000 (1912) -> JPY 4,760,000 (2009) = USD 61,689 (today)

    I did not check how the calculation from 1912 (1920) -> 2009 is actually done and parameters used for that. I just used the link calculator, so I don’t know if that is really correct. I also used today’s JPY – USD conversion rate instead of 2009. In order to check the calculation I would need more time.

    But according to this conversion, JPY 10,000 in 1912 would be quite a sum today!


  3. François T. says:


    I find also something around $110,000 for 1912.
    I used the Inflation calculator on and and in 1912, Japan was still under the gold exchange standart (1 yen = $0.5 wikipedia)

    I didn’t do anything for 1920 because, after the World War, currencies are a mess. The gold exchange standart crashed. So I didn’t find any value. And even if you have a definition of 1 yen =$0.5, it doesn’t mean that in reality it was $0.5 in 1912 for instance. You never do twice the same iriminage and it’s still an iriminage.

    I have two remarks: first Inflation is computed likely through an price average of several goods. Each good has its own price evolution. It may deviate a lot from $110,000.

    The second one is I am not sure I can compare Japan at that time and United States. It’s one thing to exchange money, it’s an other thing to buy things with it. If I exchange $20 in yen in 1912, I won’t buy the same things if in Japan or United States. You try to compare an Asian country that have a different economy, society or even culture. Can you compare, for instance, the way of life of modern American and 19th century American with a single dollar price? So it may be a source of uncertainty.

    So even if I give you a number, I really don’t know if it has a concrete value. Of course, 10,000 yen is still a good amount of money.


  4. not just an exchange rate, but a purchasing-power-parity problem. when i was teaching at Istanbul Tech the exchange rate was around 1.5 million T Lira/$US. yet i could buy a little package of cookies for half a million lira, say $.33. in the pharmacy downstairs in the clinic where i had blood tests on return a little package of cookies was $3…

    then, as i’m basically a practicing land economist, there’s the question of relative land values. somebody recently mentioned that the Japanese bubble popped when the estimated value of the Imperial Palace grounds in Tokyo exceeded the gross value of the state of California. given the undeveloped nature of Hokkaido in the day, it might be appropriate to look at similar endeavors in, say, Finland, Canada, Argentina, Chile…

    of course there’s the question of gold yen. if a yen in the day was worth $.50, that meant it was half an ounce of gold. with gold at even $1500 US, that makes 10000 yen 5000 ounces or about $7.5 million US.

    • François T. says:

      You have a good point. I had completely forgotten about the fact we are talking about land and not cars.

      I don’t know in America or in Japan, but, in France, inflation computations do not include real estate. Real estate is in the investment box and inflation is in the consumption box. The price of the land in Shirataki, Hokkaido may have had a completly different evolution when compared to inflation.

      So to have an accurate value, we would have to know how much of the 10,000 yen went to buy the land and how much went to buy food, wood… If much of it went to the land the $110,000 I gave early may be completely off.

      Am I understanding you correctly?


      • Editor says:

        I think what we are talking about here is Yoroku Ueshiba, Morihei’s father, giving a fairly large sum of money to the various poorer families who decided to relocate to Hokkaido. Kisshomaru does not speak of Yoroku loaning the money, so it appears to have been a gift. Remember that Yoroku was supporting Morihei’s grand adventure and he himself and his wife also moved to Hokkaido shortly after Morihei. Unfortunately, we have few details and no real way of independently verifying what the author has written.

      • That’s the thing: “There is no single “correct” measure, and economic historians use one or more different indicators depending on the context of the question.”

        Quoted from the site I referred to in my first comment, ,which gives a good basic understanding of the problems we’re dealing with here.

        So in my opinion, to get an idea of how much 10 000 Y was really worth we should try to find out what one could do with that sum back in 1912 and 1920. I.E. how many pigs and cows, acres of land in a certain area, etc would one be able to buy and then also compare the amount to the total amount of resources belonging to Ueshiba Yoroku; and from that we’ll then be able to say if it was a generous donation, a mighty generous donation or an implausible donation.

        Also consider this:
        My paternal grandmother owns an apartment and has 40 000 money in savings. She gives me 30 000 money as a gift for which I’ll be able to pay my rent for 3 months, or buy 3 suits, or a plane ticket to the U.S. However I live in B-town but would like to live in A-town: rent for a comparable apartment there would cost me 30 000 a month.

        My maternal grandmother owns a similar apartment to my pat. grandmother but has 10 500 000 money in savings. She gives me 600 000 money as a gift for which I’ll be able to buy a small house in B-town, or a really good apartment in A-town. The gift could also buy me 60 months worth of rent for my flat in B-town and 20 months worth of rent in A-town.

        So who’s more generous? My pat. nana who gave me less money but 75% of her savings or my mat. nana who gave me loads more money but less than 6% of her savings. Is it even possible to measure their generosity? This is more philosophical than a matter of numbers if you ask me.

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