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To help aging eyes, Japan changes yen notes

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(Bloomberg) — Japan will start issuing new 5,000-yen ($49) notes to make it easier for a growing number of visually impaired people in the aging society to distinguish between denominations of bills.

Holograms on the bottom left corner of the bills’ front will have a new texture, and will be larger and squarer than the current design to set them apart from 10,000yen notes, according to the Ministry of Finance. The notes, to be issued from May 12, will remain the same size and retain a portrait of Ichiyo Higuchi, a late 19th century female writer.

The new bills are an example of steps the world’s third-largest economy will have to take as its population ages. With the share of people aged 65 or older the highest in the world and rising, the number with impaired sight is expected to increase in coming years, according to Takayuki Suzuki, vice chairman of the Japan Federation of the Blind.

“Holograms on the old notes were small, and so the new design will make it easier for blind people to feel the difference,” Suzuki said. “We’d like to see different notes having different widths and lengths like euros, but this would be difficult as all the vending machines in the nation would have to be adjusted.”

The number of visually impaired people rose to 316,000 in 2011, according to the latest health ministry survey, up 1,000 from five years earlier. The blind federation estimates the figure will rise by a further 2,000 or 3,000 by 2016, Suzuki said.

Japan’s population declined 0.17 percent to 127.3 million in 2013, with the proportion of people aged 65 or older making up one quarter of the total, a global record and the highest-ever percentage.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to encourage more women into the workforce and is considering loosening immigration restrictions to boost the economy and government coffers.

–With assistance from Masaaki Iwamoto, Masahiro Hidaka and Toru Fujioka in Tokyo

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