Local government using bitcoin to promote tourism in Japan

With the help of Bitcoin exchange and payment processor Coincheck, the festival and City of Hirosaki are officially accepting bitcoin donations as part of their Cherry Blossom Festival this week. "This will be the first attempt for both a Bitcoin company and a local government in Japan," Coincheck states.

Hirosaki is located in the southwestern area of Aomori Prefecture, a region with abundant nature found in Mt. Iwaki and the World Natural Heritage Shirakami Mountains. The city’s main attraction is Hirosaki Castle, one of 12 surviving castles from the Edo period.

The area around Hirosaki Castle is well known as one of the best cherry blossom flower sites in Japan. Visitors to the site in late April can marvel at over 2,600 cherry blossom trees in full bloom.

2017 marks the 100th year of Hirosaki’s famous Festival. The local government that oversees the park and festival is expecting a record turnout for the anniversary event, which has been extended to mark the occasion.

The city council has said that it will be using donations to preserve the local cherry blossoms, and repair sweeping, iconic stone walls leading from a moat to the castle. A city official told Coincheck that they expect bitcoin donations “to be a unique tourism promotion.”

- Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival

Yen trading currently dominates bitcoin, contributing ~35% to the global market. Japan began recognizing Bitcoin as a method of payment at the start of this month, and several merchants in the country have been trying out the digital currency. Coincheck currently claims a 99 percent market share in payment services.

The country’s largest electronics chain, Bic Camera, became the first major retailer in the country to begin accepting bitcoin on April 5. Two of the largest branches of Bic Camera accept bitcoin, using Bitflyer's merchant processing system, and are currently offering discounts for customers using the cryptocurrency.

On the same day, Coincheck announced one of the world’s largest Bitcoin merchant payment processing deals. "Bitcoin will be accepted at 260,000 shops by this summer in Japan," the company states. Coincheck is providing the bitcoin payment gateway for Recruit Lifestyle, the retail arm of the human resource conglomerate Recruit Holdings.

The group's mobile payment service app called Mobile Payment for AirREGI is a tablet-based Point of Sale system primarily used in restaurants. The service enables customers to pay by scanning a QR code, and Coincheck converts the bitcoin payment to yen for the merchant.

- Coincheck

Governments accepting bitcoin for any type of service or activity are very rare. The Swiss Canton of Zug, better known in the community as “Cryptovalley Zug,” accepts bitcoin payments for fees and taxes. Although the Swiss municipality is only accepting Bitcoin on a trial basis, and only for fees and taxes up to 200 francs at a time.

The trial was recently been extended, and the payment option may have been added permanently. At a meeting on 13 December 2016, the City Council decided to continue accepting Bitcoins as a means of payment. The Zug city council states that while there were only a dozen customers who wanted to pay with Bitcoins, “it was nevertheless worth it.”

"It was an important experience for us to install and test the technology for bitcoin payments,” Zug Mayor Dolfi Müller explained. “We were able to put a sign against the Fin-Tech company in Zug and express that they are welcome here.”