Bitcoin Gets Attention from Conservative Investors in Japan

The world’s strongest digital currency is shaking off its past as a subversive store of value by welcoming traditional investors from the world of finance.

A recent news report published by The Wall Street Journal indicates that a major Japanese lender is ready to invest in a venture to expand bitcoin across Asia.

The investor is the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, which happens to be the biggest lending institution in Japan. The group’s main banking operation and a venture capital unit are ready to invest in Coinbase, the premier bitcoin exchange that combine real-time execution with compliance.

The move by Mitsubishi UFJ is a bit surprising. Although Japan is a technologically advanced nation, Mitsubishi UFJ is known to be a conservative financial institution; however, the group is ready to embrace technology at a time when lending does not generate so much profit due to ultra-low interest rates in Japan.

A Surprising Investment

Although bitcoin is both an electronic payment system and a monetary asset, its early adoption by crypto-anarchists lend the digital currency an almost insurgent quality. Its brief association with the Silk Road online narcotics marketplace certainly did not help bitcoin’s reputation.

There was a time when investors such as Mitsubishi UFJ would not think of being associated with bitcoin, a currency that is not tied down to central banks. Times are changing, however, and bitcoin’s fast rate of global adoption is attracting traditional investors. Bitcoin should be a perfect fit for the tech-savvy Japanese consumer society, but the digital currency already has a dark history in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Prior to Coinbase, the largest bitcoin exchange in the world was based in Tokyo. Mt. Gox, a business venture that started as Magic The Gathering Online Exchange, went bankrupt in 2014 after the arrest of CEO Mark Karpeles, who was charged with cybercrime offenses related to fraudulent bitcoin transactions.

That Mitsubishi UFJ is willing to invest in Coinbase speaks volumes about the extensive regulatory compliance work that the bitcoin exchange is known for. Every market Coinbase entered by Coinbase thus far has resulted in due diligence, compliance and legal work, something that Mt. Gox was not known for when it operated in Tokyo.

Bitcoin’s Future in Asia

At this time, the only Asian jurisdiction where Coinbase has been able to establish a national office has been Singapore. With this new investment by Mitsubishi UFJ, Japan is clearly next.

Another Japanese business enterprise that is entering the bitcoin world is Rakuten, a major e-commerce operator. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Rakuten is looking at acquiring the assets of Bitnet, a bitcoin payments processor.

Rakuten made news back in March when it chose Rakuten to handle retail bitcoin transactions for shoppers from the United States. Like Mitsubishi UFJ, Rakuten is more interested in the blockchain technology than on bitcoin itself. E-commerce transactions in Japan already enjoy many of the privacy features of bitcoin, but the transparency and tracking that blockchain technology provides could be very useful for any business that deals with deposits, payments and transfers.

As can be expected, the Asian market believed to have the greatest potential for widespread Bitcoin adoption is China. Another nation to watch is South Korea, where electronic payments are extremely commonplace. The Bank of Korea considered formal regulation of bitcoin at the end of 2013, but a full legal solution has yet to be implemented.

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