Anyone with even a passing interest in the art of videogames has probably crossed paths with a Legend of Zelda title at some point in her life, and through it, become familiar with the multicolored gems that pass for money in the game’s world, the rupees. Where did they come from, though? That question has haunted many a child with way too much time on their hands since the days of the NES. Was it just a mistranslation of ruby? If so, why weren’t they usually red? Obviously, rupees are the real world currency of India and a handful of other nations. Yet Legend of Zelda is very much a western-style fantasy, produced by a Japanese team, and has little, if any, Indian elements.
Recently, I stumbled on something that may shed some light on the subject. Or, more likely, it just muddies the water a bit more. Apparently, in my family, it’s a tradition to give infants money that they’ll never be able to use. Sometime between my second and third birthday, judging by the dates on this stuff, my grandparents on both sides of the family independently decided that I was really bad at saving money, so they thought they’d teach me a lesson by giving me money I could never possibly turn into Batman toys. Silver dollars commemorating big national events, exotic foreign currencies, that sort of thing. I wasn’t very interested, on account of I was freakin’ two, so my parents just stored it all away until I grew up a bit. Some time ago, I started wearing shirts with collars on them even on my off hours, which apparently means I’m now adult enough that I can finally have the presents I was given two decades ago. I confess, I’m a bit more interested in them now than I was then. One piece in particular caught my eye.
Turns out the Japanese government, hosts of the Legend of Zelda Development Squad, officially banked rupees themselves for a time.
It’s fairly well known that Japan was involved in World War II largely with the aims of increasing their territory and control. They had taken over a number of countries, and one of their first moves was always to confiscate all the national currency they could get their hands on and replace it with cash backed by their own banks. This note was part of the invasion money for their occupation of Burma, in use from 1942 to 1945. So, there you have it. The Japanese Rupee.
Could this have inspired Nintendo in the creation of the Legend of Zelda’s world? Probably not. But maybe it did! You can’t prove otherwise! At least, it’s an interesting thought to hold, right? Right?
I have never played a Legend of Zelda game, I probably should! That is a fancy looking bank note though, kinda pretty, shame it was used for bad reasons 😦
Never played Legend of Zelda, never played Mario, seems you’ve missed out on a lot of the classics 🙂
That is awesome. I looked into it a bit, and the japanese words for “ruby” and “rupee” are very similar (they differ by only an accent mark), but it’s still called a rupee in the Japanese versions of the games.
This is why we need “making of” game development documentaries.
Yep, still “rupee” in Japanese. Confounding the issue, though, they’re called “rubies” in other languages, such as German, and the gems themselves do seem to come from ore.
Personally, I never read the manuals until Ocarina of Time came out, and I spent years convinced they were supposed to be called rubies and everyone was just spelling them wrong.
Money doesn’t grow on trees… but rupees can be found by slashing bushes.
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