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Japanese Retail Giant Rakuten Hints at Bitcoin Acceptance

(@southtopia) | Published on July 15, 2014 at 10:11 GMT

The CEO of Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, Hiroshi Mikitani, has announced in a speech that his company will probably accept bitcoin "sooner or later", according to a report.

The news, published in major daily newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, is significant as the Rakuten Group is the country's premier online retail conglomerate, and one of the world's largest, with a network of over 40 businesses worldwide and over 10,000 employees.

Another potentially interesting angle is that Rakuten has its own bank, offers credit cards, has its own securities brokerage and runs the e-cash network of RFID-chip cards known as Edy.

Mikitani made the comments in a speech (unofficial translation) to several of Rakuten's merchants in Fukuoka, saying:

"The Internet revolution is accelerating this year and I imagine that, sooner or later, Rakuten will start accepting money in the form of bitcoin (an internet virtual currency)."

Bitcoin offered a more stable option to some countries even over their own national currencies, he added.

Commerce and competition

Rakuten has its finger in many major pies. It is regarded as a global competitor to Amazon.com, and Mikitani himself is an Internet business pioneer often referred to as 'Japan's Jeff Bezos'. It also manages a professional baseball team, the Rakuten Eagles, which last year won the Japan Series.

Mikitani often engages in a fierce business rivalry with fellow entrepreneur Masayoshi Son of mobile phone carrier Softbank, with the two regularly seeking out ways to disrupt Japan's often conservative corporate status quo.

The company's online marketplace, Rakuten Ichiba (literally 'Rakuten marketplace'), has over 40,000 independent merchant members. According to Wikipedia, its revenues in 2012 reached $4.63bn.

Going global

The company is further famous for its aggressive acquisition policy, traveling the world to buy other e-commerce sites including Play.com, Buy.com (for $250m in cash in 2010), and messaging app Viber in February this year for $900m.

It has also bought a stake in Pinterest, and purchased e-book company Kobo, whose devices it markets and sells in Japan, again in direct competition with Amazon.com.

Were Rakuten to begin accepting bitcoin, whether sooner or later, virtually every kind of consumer product would potentially be available for purchase with bitcoin in Japan. Often seen as another Holy Grail for digital currency, neither it nor CEO Mikitani has previously hinted publicly the option might be considered.

Mikitani image via Guillaume Paumier, CC-BY

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