ON HIMALAYAN hillsides grows Japan's cold, hard cash. The making of the prized yen starts with a shrub on a Himalayan hillside.

Pasand Sherpa had no idea that bark stripped from his '' argeli '' would one day turn into pure money - the outgrowth of an of an unusual trade in which one of the poorest pockets of Asia supplies a primary ingredient for the economy in one of the richest.

Japan's currency is printed on special paper that can no longer be sourced at home.

The Japanese love their old-fashioned yen notes, and this year they needed mountains of fresh ones, so Mr. Sherpa and his neighbors have a lucrative reason to hang on to their hillsides.

'' I hadn't thought these raw materials would be exported to Japan or that I would make money from this plant,'' Mr. Sherpa said. '' I am now quite happy. This success came from nowhere. It grew up from my courtyard.''

Headquartered 2,860 miles away in Osaka.  Kanpou Incorporated produces paper used by the Japanese government for official purposes.

One of Kanpou's charitable programs had been scouting the foothills of the Himalayas since the 1990s. It went there to help the local farmers dig wells. Its agents eventually stumbled onto a solution for a Japanese problem.

Japan's supply of mitsumata, the traditional paper used to print its bank notes, was running low. The paper starts with pulp from plants of the Thymelaeaceae family which grew at high altitude with moderate sunshine and good drainage - tea growing terrain.

Shrinking rural population and climate change were driving Japanese farmers to abandon their labor-intensive plots.

Kanpou's president at the time knew that mitsumata had its origins in the Himalayas. So he wondered : 

Why not transplant it? After years of trial and error, the company discovered the argeli, a hardier relative, was already growing wild in Nepal. Its farmers just needed tutoring to meet Japan's exacting standards.

A quieter revolution got underway after earthquake devastated much of the Nepal in 2015. The Japanese sent specialists to the capital, Kathmandu, to help Nepali farmers get serious about making the stuff of cold, hard yen. 

This year, Mr. Sherpa has hired 60 local Nepalis to help him process his harvest and expects to earn eight million Nepali rupees, $60,000 in profit.

[ The average annual income in Nepal is about $1,340, according to the World Bank].

Mr. Sherpa hopes to produce 20 of the 140 tons that Nepal will be shipping to Japan.

'' As a Nepali,'' said Hari Gopal Shrestha, the general manager of Kanpou's Nepal arm, ''I feel proud of managing raw materials to print the currency of rich countries like Japan. That's a great moment for me. ''

The World Students Society thanks Bhadra Sharma, Alex Travelli and Kiuko Notoya.


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