The number of locally developed, professional bitcoin services launching in Japan recently is a sign of growing acceptance in the country.
The latest is a multi-service bitcoin platform called Coincheck, which offers a wallet, exchange and merchant payment system. A new feature aimed directly at the e-commerce industry, called 'Coincheck for EC’ will launch on 14th September.
Takuro Mizobe, one of Coincheck's lead engineers, told CoinDesk the company was in negotiations with several online merchants who had contacted the company, looking for the marketing edge they would potentially gain by accepting bitcoin.
"As you might know, the number of people who have bitcoin hasn't been scaled in Japan, and they are lacking knowledge of cryptocurrencies. For this reason, [Coincheck's] all-in-one service and brands are user-friendly and accessible [...] Having all of bitcoin ecosystem services in house [is] quite advantageous against competition."
Mizobe said Japan's massive content industry, that includes manga, anime and games, offered enormous opportunities for bitcoin – especially in terms of micropayments. According to a report by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), that industry was worth a whopping ¥12 trillion ($111.3bn) in 2012.
Coincheck's e-commerce platform has a simple and easy-to-navigate design, and merchants will be able to integrate it directly into their site. Like similar merchant services, it will instantly convert bitcoin to Japanese yen to assuage concerns about volatility.
As an introductory offer, Coincheck is waiving some of its usage fees.
Coincheck, which has a staff of five and opened its doors about a month ago, has already received coverage in the local technology media. It has also received funding from Japan's largest social gaming company DeNA through its Incubate Fund, which launched in 2010 and is reported to have invested in other bitcoin companies.
Mizobe sees support from companies like DeNA as a positive sign for the cryptocurrency industry in Japan.
Obtaining banking services, he added, had not been an obstacle, as positive statements on digital currency from members of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party have made the process of setting up smoother than in some other jurisdictions.
Bitcoin in Japan
Japan has for over a decade used sophisticated NFC-based e-cash networks like Suica, Pasmo and Edy (now managed by e-commerce giant Rakuten). This is a double-edged sword for bitcoin – on the one hand, the public is accustomed to using instant electronic payments. On the other, they may see no need for a new and perceivably more edgy one like bitcoin.
Japanese people's willingness to try out new technology is also legendary, which means many may experiment with bitcoin out of sheer curiosity.
Mizobe acknowledged there was suspicion about cryptocurrency thanks to Mt Gox being headquartered in Tokyo, and another little-known (outside Japan) scandal in 2009 surrounding an attempt to create an e-currency called 'Enten'.
"But fortunately, regulation risk has been low compared to NYC," he said.
Bitcoin, he said, was still the biggest paradigm shift in the modern financial industry for the past 100 years, adding:
"Even in Japan, some evangelists – including the guys who are working at big enterprise – are trying to appeal to others to accept bitcoin, and they have contacted us."
Akihabara anime image via Shutterstock