Two leading Japanese bitcoin exchanges recently unveiled initiatives to accelerate bitcoin adoption in Japan. “Since Mt. Gox incident image of bitcoin in Japan is terrible,” the Business Development Lead of Coincheck, Kagayaki Kawabata, told BNC. The now defunct Tokyo-based Mt. Gox was handling approximately 70 percent of global bitcoin transactions before it’s collapse, subsequent bankruptcy, and the arrest of CEO Mark Karpeles.
Kawabata recently unveiled the ‘Coincheck Electricity’ platform, which will be launching in November. The platform allows customers to pay their electricity bills with bitcoin, with a rebate of 4 to 6 percent.
“Having bitcoin payment available for something like a utility bill, that has a reliable image, will definitely change how people perceive bitcoin in a good way.”
- Kagayaki Kawabata, Coincheck Business Development Lead
The bitcoin service will initially be available to residents of Kanto, Kansai, and Chubu. Tokyo Electric Power Company, Kansai Electric Power and Chubu Electric Power will supply the electricity.
The project has a target of acquiring 10,000 customers in the first year, and there are plans to add gas bills, water bills and mobile bills. Coincheck's operator, ResuPress, has teamed up with a Tokyo-based seller of propane gas, Mitsuwa Industry Co. and is working with its subsidiary, E-net Systems Co.
Founded in 1940, E-net systems has 37 locations and over 200,000 customers. Among its partners is Marubeni Power Retail Corporation, which has 17 power plants throughout Japan and operates in more than 22 countries.
“Having bitcoin as an option for payment of utility bill will change how people in Japan perceive bitcoin,” Kawabata explained. “In past few years, the image of bitcoin improved gradually, but we think this news will accelerate it even more.” The company’s founder, Koichiro Wada, echoed his sentiment. Wada also believes this initiative will be a big step toward wider bitcoin adoption.
“The use of bitcoin has been growing rapidly worldwide, but there are few places in Japan where you can spend it yet.”
- Koichiro Wada, Coincheck Founder
Coincheck is the fifth largest exchange for Yen trading, and has a history of signing up interesting merchants. While the company’s blog typically announces popular restaurants around Tokyo that accept bitcoin, the company added a real estate rental and sales site, Sekai Inc., and entertainment industry heavyweight DMM to the roster in March.
DMM offers a variety of videos, games, gambling, and online specials ranging from theater tickets to tutoring on their website for points, which can now be purchased with bitcoins. The website claims over 19 million registered users and was at the time the 26th most popular website in Japan.
“Coincheck has been working to spread the usage of bitcoin in real life where more than 2500 merchants in Japan that accept bitcoin use Coincheck bitcoin payment,” states Kawabata “To forward bitcoin adoption having bitcoin payment available in real life scenario is essential.”
The third largest exchange in Japan, Zaif, is also focusing on bitcoin adoption. Operated by Tech Bureau, the exchange recently unveiled a new Japanese TV show called “BitGirls.” The variety style show lets young women demonstrate their talents for a chance of stardom, with an added digital currency twist. Zaif launches a unique digital currency for every contestant.
“BitGirls is a Japanese TV program with transparent voting powered by blockchain,” the shows’ information portal explains. “Investors will receive voting tokens,which will directly influence the content of the future episodes.” Zaif will is launching the girls’ Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) on October 3.
As each contestant is introduced on the show 5 million tokens go on sale. They can be bought on the Zaif bitcoin exchange through a mobile app, in exchange for Bitcoin, Counterparty coins, (XCP), Nem coins, (XEM), and the exchange’s own token ZAIF coins.
The tokens are counterparty assets called “Torekabu,” which is a portmanteau of the Japanese words “Toreka,” which means trading cards, and “Kabu,” which means stocks or shares.
The contestants progress on the show is determined primarily by the Torekabu’s price. “The ranking of performers is dependent on the result of vote on web,” the TV show’s site explains. The top three to five contestants perform again at the end of the show.
The show’s creators believe that the price will rise and fall due to the contestants performance and popularity on the show. There is also a time-based bonus built in, making Torekabu more expensive to buy as time passes. Additional votes for “PR battles” are held by fans sending bitcoin to an address for each contestant. The contestant with the highest bitcoin balance gets “30 seconds of PR” on the show.
“This programme is a participatory, economic, and entertainment TV show where viewers can interact with its performers by crypto-currencies. Viewers are able to vote for the member of the show, watch the result of it, and enjoy the contents.”
“I am trying to create a loop of Web 2 TV 2 Web. That way, more people than ever will hear the word Bitcoin, and also they will be using tokens created on blockchain,” Tech Bureau's CEO Takao Asayama recently told BNC. He sees the torekabu concept teaching people how the cryptocurrency economy works.
The show will air weekly at midnight on Fridays on Tokyo Metropolitan Television Broadcasting Corporation (Tokyo MX). As the only commercial television station in Tokyo that exclusively serves the city, Tokyo MX competes with Nippon Television, TV Asahi, NHK, Tokyo Broadcasting System, TV Tokyo, and Fuji Television. “Tokyo MX is a very popular TV station with 14.3 million households as viewers,” Asayama said.
“As I see at my Zaif Exchange, we are experiencing a surge of Bitcoin in Japan. I am confident this BitGirl project will accelerate the popularization of Bitcoin in Japan, and will help it take of early 2017.”
- Takao Asayama, Tech Bureau CEO
The two new ventures come a recent push from the Japanese government to regulate bitcoin exchanges and have the Financial Services Agency (FSA) recognize bitcoin as an asset-like money. Bitcoin trade volumes and news in the land of the rising sun have since steadily gained pace. The Bank of Japan had nothing but good things to say about bitcoin and blockchains at their latest settlement forum.
Major merchants have also been looking at bitcoin in Japan. Rakuten, the country’s answer to Amazon.com, was the first major Japanese vendor to start accepting bitcoin for payments from outside of the country.
Rakuten recently acquired blockchain-based digital payments platform Bitnet Technologies Ltd, and opened its own Rakuten Blockchain Lab. The dedicated research and development organization launched at the end of August in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The announcement states that the lab will be “focused on blockchain technology and its potential applications in the fintech and e-commerce sectors.”
The country’s largest cell service provider, NTT DoCoMo, took part in Coinbase’s record-breaking $75 million finance round in January 2015, along with the NYSE and several big banks.
OKWave, Japan’s version of popular Q&A site Quora, is attempting to leverage bitcoin use across their website, having teamed up with bitcoin wallet Breadwallet in May. The partnership allows bitcoin tips for answers on the site.
Meanwhile, bitcoin ATM machines have popped up around the country. Currently, there are 11 showing on CoinATMRadar, seven in the Tokyo area alone.