JAPAN, THE CRYPTO HAVEN
Excerpt from Bloomberg Radio’s podcast
Bloomberg Radio’s podcast “Decrypted” deals with Japan this week. As it says in the podcast’s introduction, “Over the last few months, governments around the world have cracked down on Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. But one country is sticking to its crypto-friendly policies: Japan. This week on Decrypted, Bloomberg Technology’s Yuji Nakamura and Aki Ito take you to Tokyo to meet the unlikely characters who helped turn Japan into the world’s premier Bitcoin hub, including investor Roger Ver, a.k.a. Bitcoin Jesus.”
The fact that Japan has emerged as a crypto-currency haven is not due to open-minded Japanese lawmakers. Interestingly, it began with a previously imprisoned American man who arrived in the country looking for a fresh start. His name is Roger Ver, who came to Japan in 2006. He had just got out of prison for selling explosives online. A few years later, he became an enthusiastic Bitcoin supporter in the early days of the number one crypto. He organized parties and gave away coins for free to encourage their use (when a Bitcoin was worth about $1). He estimates he gave away more than 10,000 coins.
At that time the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange was Mt. Gox. It was here, in Japan that Ver’s cooperation started with Mark Karpeles, a Frenchman who bought Mt. Gox and moved its headquarters to Tokyo.
Ver and Karpeles helped create a community of crypto experts who popularized the currencies and owing to the expert community, government officials realized the concept’s potential. Japan became a Bitcoin haven, and the country has maintained a supportive regulatory environment, despite mentionable troubles such as investor fraud and the $500 million hack of one of the Japanese crypto-exchanges this year.
The podcast explains: “But the nation’s lawmakers have remained firmly supportive. They’re moving to regulate new exchanges, rather than ban them outright. Last week, they took the first step toward legalizing initial coin offerings, or ICOs, a controversial fundraising technique outlawed in places like China and South Korea. Emboldened by the government’s stance, tech and financial firms are stepping up investment.”
How did these two guys end up in Japan? Well, it didn’t have anything to do with business, says the podcast: “Ver didn’t have any of this planned when he came to Japan. He was a millionaire thanks to the same online business that landed him in trouble with authorities in the U.S. He said he’d had a Japanese girlfriend once and decided to move to the country in part to find a new one. Karpeles also landed in Japan on a whim, attracted by its culture and anime.”
Mt. Gox went bankrupt in 2014, but Ver stayed bullish even when prices started dropping. The laws that Japan implemented were more crypto industry-friendly than he expected, says Ver.
And as a result of those laws, Japan is experiencing an influx of corporate interest, and big banks are pouring millions into blockchain startups that have the potential to disrupt the traditional financial order not only in Japan but in the whole world.