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Author Topic: Will people ditch cash for cryptocurrency? Japan is about to find out  (Read 168 times)
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January 28, 2019, 11:04:55 AM
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The world’s largest experiment in using blockchain-based networks to pay for things is about to begin.

Japan’s citizens have an expensive habit: paying for things with cash.

Most payments in the world’s third largest economy involve paper bills and metal coins. That sets Japan far apart from China and South Korea, where various “cashless” electronic payment schemes dominate, as well as the West, where credit and debit cards are much more popular.

That means the country also has a lot of ATMs—probably over 200,000—as well as cash registers and fleets of vehicles for moving money around. It all adds up to an estimated $18 billion a year in costs, most borne by the financial industry.

Next year, hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors—most from countries where credit cards and digital payments are second nature—will descend on Tokyo for the Olympics. They’re expected to spend billions of dollars during the event, and Japan’s financial system simply isn’t equipped to handle it. Hundreds of millions could be left on the table.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he wants 40% of payments to be cashless by 2025. In August, the government announced plans to offer tax breaks and subsidies for companies that get on board. And while everything from credit card payments to transactions using QR codes would qualify, some of the country’s biggest financial players think the way to wean Japan off cash lies in the technology that runs Bitcoin.

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), the country’s largest bank and the fifth largest in the world by total assets, has teamed with American internet company Akamai to build a blockchain-based consumer payment network in time for the Olympics. If they pull it off, it could be the fastest and most powerful consumer payment network to date. They claim that in tests it’s been able to handle more than a million transactions per second, with each transaction confirmed in two seconds or less, and say it could eventually achieve 10 million transactions per second. (Visa’s credit card network, by comparison, handles several thousand transactions per second. Bitcoin tops out at about seven transactions per second, and each transaction can take up to an hour to confirm.) The system is designed to handle all kinds of payments, from automated highway tolls to payment-card swipes to in-app purchases.

MUFG, which has also tested its own crypto-token, is far from alone. Mizuho Financial Group, a large holding company, has been experimenting with blockchain technology for several years as part of a project dubbed “J-Coin” and plans to release its own digital currency for retail payments in March. SBI Holdings, a big financial-services firm, says it’s building its own token, also for retail payments, called S Coin.

The wager all these companies are making is that Japan’s society is primed to start using digital cash. It is relatively technologically savvy, cryptocurrency trading has been uniquely popular in the country for years, and Japan’s financial regulators are more familiar with blockchain technology than any others in the world. With the government’s pressure to go cashless, and little competition from credit cards and other forms of e-payment, Japan could leapfrog the technology underlying today’s electronic payment networks and go straight to blockchains.

If the experiment works, the country’s economy might be remade. Everything from huge transactions between banks to small retail purchases could be carried out with barely any delay and at a fraction of the current cost; even today’s credit cards would be slow and expensive by comparison.

In the process, Japan will become the world’s biggest test bed for the decade-old idea that a cryptographic ledger and a network of computers can be used to create an electronic form of cash. It might even regain its position as a global leader in both finance and technology—a status it hasn’t enjoyed for decades.

The story of how it got to this moment, however, begins with a catastrophe.

The legacy of Mt. Gox

Long, long ago in cryptocurrency time—which is to say, between 2010 and early 2014—Tokyo-based Mt. Gox was the global online platform for buying and trading Bitcoin. In 2013, it accounted for 70% of all Bitcoin transactions. So when hackers made off with $450 million worth of Bitcoin from the exchange, causing it to collapse, the shock waves were felt worldwide.

The disaster was particularly traumatic for Japan, recalls Aya Miyaguchi, who at the time was working for Kraken, a US-based exchange that was one of the few competitors to Mt. Gox. “For the most part, people did not know anything about Bitcoin,” she says. When the news of the collapse broke, “many in the country panicked,” she says, and the Japanese media panned cryptocurrencies.

This worried Miyaguchi, a native of Japan who moved to the US 10 years ago and now heads the Ethereum Foundation. “I thought the entire ecosystem could be at risk without proper information and education,” she says. She felt a duty to help educate regulators, investors, and the public about cryptocurrency and blockchains.

Just a month after Mt. Gox’s meltdown, Miyaguchi met with Mineyuki Fukuda, an influential lawmaker in Japan’s ruling party who had been given the job of figuring out how to regulate the technology. She was struck by his foresight. “He saw this technology as bringing a potential competitive advantage to Japan,” says Miyaguchi. “We even talked about how we could use crypto for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.”

Fukuda was not acting in a vacuum. In the late 1990s and early 2000s Japan’s tech industry, once the envy of the world, had lost big chunks of global market share to foreign companies, particularly in South Korea and China. The government was on the lookout for new industries in which the country could compete. Policymakers were particularly concerned about how Japan had fallen behind China in fintech, says Thomas Glucksmann, a former Mt. Gox employee who now runs Asian corporate partnerships for Diginex, a Hong Kong–based consulting firm focused on blockchain technology.

Fukuda decided not to slap down the cryptocurrency industry after the Mt. Gox collapse, but to cultivate it. Instead of immediately creating new rules for blockchain technology, the government set up an industry-led self-regulatory organization. Eventually, Japan rolled out the world’s first (and still only) licensing regime for cryptocurrency exchanges, which went into effect in April 2017.

The authorities were less forgiving after hackers looted half a billion dollars in January 2018 from Coincheck, an unlicensed exchange that was operating under an exemption. Japan’s Financial Services Agency (FSA) launched investigations of the nation’s cryptocurrency exchanges and ordered several of them to fix shoddy security practices. The regulators toughened up licensing, slowing new approvals to a halt; Coincheck, now under new management, finally got its license only this month.

Regulating cryptocurrency without hindering innovation is a challenge for many governments. But Japan seems to be striking a pretty good balance. After the Coincheck incident, the FSA “studied very hard about cryptocurrency and cybersecurity” and wound up better informed than most consultants in the industry, says Oki Matsumoto, chairman and managing director of Monex, Coincheck’s new owner. As with the Mt. Gox fiasco, the government turned the Coincheck hack into a teachable moment.

Inventing crypto-cash

There’s at least one more reason to think blockchain-based cash can succeed in Japan: retail investors there already love crypto.

The affection apparently stems from their affinity for trading foreign currencies. Japanese traders account for more than half of all global margin trading in the foreign exchange market. Of late, they’ve expanded to cryptocurrency trading, taking advantage of Japan’s bustling (and now regulated) exchange scene. It’s hard to pin down the Japanese cryptocurrency market’s exact size, but it has become Asia’s biggest market since China clamped down on trading in 2017. Analysts at Deutsche Bank say Japanese retail investors were a big reason why Bitcoin’s price shot up to almost $20,000 in late 2017.

Of course, cryptocurrency trading is popular in many countries, yet it isn’t used much in retail payments anywhere. Why should Japan be any different? Its retail sector is decidedly low-tech: most stores don’t even accept credit or debit cards. To shop online, people commonly print out a bar code at home and take it to a convenience store, where they pay in cash.

On the other hand, they aren’t completely averse to electronic payments. Prepaid card services like Suica, which are sold by the country’s major railway companies, are popular. Grocery and convenience stores tend to accept Suica cards, too. Andy Champagne, CTO of Akamai, is convinced that the pieces are in place for Japan to end its love affair with cash. “It’s an extraordinarily technical society, and a society that’s very interested in transacting digitally,” he says. Given the government’s push to go cashless fast, “it’s a unique opportunity at a unique time.”

But even if that’s the case, why blockchains? Today’s cryptocurrencies tend to be volatile unless they’re backed by fiat currency in a bank account. They are difficult to use and keep safe from hackers, and blockchain transactions that turn out to be fraudulent can’t be reversed. Third-party services like exchanges can have big security problems, as the Mt. Gox and Coincheck hacks showed. And the most popular blockchains are slow and require masses of computing power to secure the ledger, which gives them huge carbon footprints.

The systems Japan’s banks are building could change that. MUFG’s blockchain will run on Akamai’s servers. The company is skilled at building proprietary algorithms to deliver web content to users around the world, its core business. That expertise readily translates to running a network that’s more energy efficient, faster, and cheaper to operate than a public blockchain, Champagne says. So much so, MUFG believes, that even payments too small to make sense on traditional credit card networks will be feasible.

Will people in Japan really ditch their cash for blockchains, though? Yoriko Beal, cofounder of HashHub, a co-working space for blockchain startups in Tokyo, is skeptical. The popularity of Suica cards shows that it’s not outside the realm of possibility. But she believes it’s about utility, not about the underlying technology. Suica cards are very useful, so people adopted them, she says: “If MUFG and Akamai are so sure that using blockchain can reduce costs a lot compared to, like, using metro cards, it might happen.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611656/will-people-ditch-cash-for-cryptocurrency-japan-is-about-to-find-out/

....

Summary: Japan is hosting the olympics in 2020. Due to their society utilizing a high proportion of paper money, their electronic payment infrastructure may not be developed to support the flood of electronic payments they are likely to see from visitors who travel there to watch the olympic games. Mitsubishi Financial Group has partnered with akamai to produce a blockchain based electronic payment system in the hope of luring japan into becoming more supportive of the cashless society paradigm which is being pushed globally.

Japan is an interesting and unique case. There has been pressure on japan to raise its birth rate and engage in population growth rather than the decline which defines its trend. Some say all nations on earth must grow their population. In theory this will increase tax revenues which will eventually allow us to overcome deficits and issues with pension plans. Japan appears to be one of the lone exceptions refusing to accept this.

Likewise with the concept of cashless societies, japan may be resisting that as well. Although I could see them becoming more supporting of technologies based on blockchain and bitcoin technology, I'm not particularly optimistic about it.

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January 28, 2019, 11:40:06 AM
 #2

I'm really surprised to hear Japan is so reliant on cash. I'm also skeptical about the value of this Mitsubishi blockchain venture. It's probably just a closed network of private nodes (basically a database) and won't provide any of the security guarantees that a decentralized PoW system does.

The comparison to Visa isn't fair since they're comparing Visa's current volume to the potential maximum capacity of Mitsubishi's system. I'm sure Visa can do more than several thousand transactions per second.

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January 28, 2019, 09:44:19 PM
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From what I've seen in the article it does seem like that they are just using blockchain technology as the infrastructure for processing fiat payments.

As exstasie said, that is completely different from a decentralized cryptocurrency which has its own currency supply, and can process payments without any third parties. So to me, the fact that Japan's retail cryptocurrency investments are booming has no real relevance to whether this new network for processing fiat payments will be able to succeed.

Even if they were able to do this from a technical standpoint, will this just be a temporary thing with the Olympics in order to facilitate transactions for foreigner, or would they actually be able to integrate this network into day to day payments of the locals after the Olympics? Since Japan is so reliant on cash, it's difficult to say. It's honestly very interesting though that out of all the countries around the world, Japan would be the one that hasn't stepped into cashlessness at all at this stage.

 
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January 28, 2019, 10:21:11 PM
 #4

I am alao surprised that cash transactions are so high in a country
renowned for its technology.

We all know Japan gas been very openminded towards crypto
this just proves they really are blazing a crypto trail for the rest
if the world to follow.

I would be confident that this is a plan to continue after the olympics,
Just looking at the savings alone for the financial system by
reducing cash handling.

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January 28, 2019, 11:14:11 PM
 #5

The comparison to Visa isn't fair since they're comparing Visa's current volume to the potential maximum capacity of Mitsubishi's system. I'm sure Visa can do more than several thousand transactions per second.

I am pretty certain that if the demand is there, Visa could easily scale to over a million transactions per second. Reality however shows that you only need extremely high transaction throughput for like a week or two per year in total. In other words, you don't need outrageous throughput metrics. It's more like a selling feature rather than something that's actually providing much utility on a daily basis.

It's way more important to have your service be able to handle the daily use in a consistent manner, and to keep people using your platform, because the competition in the payment space is fierce. If you mess up too often, or a competitor offers lower fees, more rewarding bonuses for every purchase, you have a problem.

We'll see how this plays out, it's interesting enough to follow.

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January 28, 2019, 11:31:32 PM
 #6

I would've thought that TPS rate is only needed for internet of things type stuff. Visa does less than 2000 per second on average.

Of course it's going to be centralised and of course it's going to be nothing other than a fiat token. Let's hope it's nice and robust.


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January 28, 2019, 11:36:23 PM
 #7

Japan wouldn't ditch fiat money for cryptocurrency. Japan would only maximize the use of blockchain technology in its country. For sure there would be financial transactions that currently using fiat money, would be replaced by cryptocurrency. However there are still financial transactions that will use fiat money. Thus, giving us a society where fiat money and cryptocurrency exist together without problems.

 
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January 29, 2019, 01:43:12 AM
 #8

Japan is indeed a country that is always advancing in terms of technology and is open to new technologies. in the case of crypto, Japan will always try to develop how crypto efficiency is used as payment for daily needs.
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January 29, 2019, 06:40:41 AM
 #9

Japan is a weird country.I honestly can't predict what will happen with the crypto adoption there.
Perhaps the young people will adopt crypto,while the seniors(which are the majority of the population) will stick to paper money.

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January 29, 2019, 07:09:12 AM
 #10

Japan is indeed a country that is always advancing in terms of technology and is open to new technologies. in the case of crypto, Japan will always try to develop how crypto efficiency is used as payment for daily needs.
Well said, Japan being a leading contributor to the cryptocurrency network have been making themselves one among the strong market as well educating people use cryptocurrencies. As a beginning last year itself it permitted stores to accept crypto payments as well implemented more cryptocurrency ATMs keeping people updated and travel along with the growing technology.




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January 29, 2019, 07:23:02 AM
 #11

Japan is indeed a country that is always advancing in terms of technology and is open to new technologies. in the case of crypto, Japan will always try to develop how crypto efficiency is used as payment for daily needs.
Well said, Japan being a leading contributor to the cryptocurrency network have been making themselves one among the strong market as well educating people use cryptocurrencies. As a beginning last year itself it permitted stores to accept crypto payments as well implemented more cryptocurrency ATMs keeping people updated and travel along with the growing technology.
right, as if in Japan is an example of a country that applies cryptocurrency as a means of payment. until the salary of employees also uses crytocurrency. so it is not surprising that in 2017 many were suddenly rich there. even so the currency jpy remains active, and crypto is the supporting currency that runs together

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January 29, 2019, 08:00:02 AM
 #12

if Japan makes its cash just to exchange cryptocurrency it seems like that won't be possible, surely there will still be some people who will use cash and cryptocurrency will not be able to control the world, I'm sure some people will still use cash to transact.

 
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January 29, 2019, 08:16:25 AM
 #13

I think you highlighted the most important part in that article, where it says that Japan is planning to create their own Blockchain based payment network, so they will not be using the Bitcoin token. This is actually bad news for Bitcoin if that is true and it is also very sad that they opted to take that route. I was under the impression that Japan was one of the countries that was running in front with Bitcoin adoption and legislation but it turns out that they have ulterior motives to do that. <They cannot ban Bitcoin and then develop their own flavor of Bitcoin and force people to use that, so they allow Bitcoin as a stepping stone for their own private coin in the future.>  Angry

I guess I am not very motivated to attend the Tokyo Olympics now.  Angry


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January 29, 2019, 09:21:06 AM
 #14

Quote
Likewise with the concept of cashless societies, japan may be resisting that as well. Although I could see them becoming more supporting of technologies based on blockchain and bitcoin technology, I'm not particularly optimistic about it.

Is this just going to be a payment network based on blockchain, or will it actually have some sort of token that is used as an underlying asset of the network? If the former is it even fair to say that this is a step towards "cryptocurrency", or rather is it just Japan's move towards cashlessness from its current cash reliant nature?

Quote from: Kakmakr
This is actually bad news for Bitcoin if that is true and it is also very sad that they opted to take that route.

I don't think that it's bad news per se.

There was very little chance that a centralised, potentially government endorsed body would ever take the route of a decentralised cryptocurrency to begin with. Launching this doesn't hurt bitcoin's growth one bit, since the market that it's going to take away from is going to mainly cash usage.

Japan's still pretty progressive in terms of policies for crypto businesses, overall. As long as that stays the case, bitcoin's use as a store of value and an online currency shouldn't be affected.

 
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January 29, 2019, 12:26:37 PM
 #15

It requires a lot more to become cashless there than any other country, they have like a million things they need to do to reach our levels and also didn't had a good bitcoin history. I mean I had a friend who went to japan for one year on college to study and came back and the cash society is so large that one of the first things he said was the country was very very very expensive and you needed to pay with cash all the time so you needed to have the money at hand all the time.

As a country of people who like to use debit and usually credit cards (because credit cards are a bless when you do not have the money at that moment but getting some in couple days so you buy now but pay a week later) it was weird to him. It makes living a lot harder so it would be great for Japan to do that but shops will not have that ease of transition.

On top of that the mt.gox that were talked about also plays a big role here, they were one of the first places that had big bitcoin scam happened and they still remember that.
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January 29, 2019, 01:11:36 PM
Merited by poptok1 (1)
 #16

Summary: Japan is hosting the olympics in 2020. Due to their society utilizing a high proportion of paper money, their electronic payment infrastructure may not be developed to support the flood of electronic payments they are likely to see from visitors who travel there to watch the olympic games.

I seriously doubt this...

First,Japan has hosted a world cup in 2002, and the winter Olympics in 98 without a problem.

Second, there were between 500 000 to 600 000 visitors to London during the Olympics.
Japan is a not that conveniently located and it's far more expensive, so expect fewer visitors.
Rio received only 400 000 foreigners.

We divide those visitors by months it will be at around 200 000 a month, and let's compare that number with the 20% of Japan population that uses cashless payments, which is around 25 million and we will see that the maximum increase will be ...1%.

There are 26 million tourists visiting Japan each year, the Olympics will not put any pressure on the network.




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January 29, 2019, 01:51:47 PM
 #17

I guess I am not very motivated to attend the Tokyo Olympics now.  Angry

Why so emotional?

Of course they're not going to roll out a national payment network based on Bitcoin. Bitcoin already has its own galaxy wide payment network.

As ever this is nothing other than a yen token. It is no 'competition' to BTC whatsoever.

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January 29, 2019, 02:15:53 PM
 #18

Whatever floats their boat I guess. Japan became successful and progressive due to them sticking to what they are producing and focusing to improve those products, so this is no exception. While time and time again, we proved that Japan is a cryptocurrency-friendly nation, they still have their ideals and own agendas to push for their betterment. Besides, they are the host for the upcoming olympics, I guess it's also good PR for their tech, too.
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January 29, 2019, 02:16:48 PM
 #19

It is good to see countries like Japan trying to find new ways of promoting innovative and technological advances. After all, Japan has shown over time that it is always one step ahead in terms of innovation. Olympics will be a good event to promote cryptocurrency and mass adoption. However, I have seen many many years ago that Mitsubishi tried to develop a blockchain. How come they still haven't developed one?

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January 29, 2019, 02:59:27 PM
 #20

Never give the government control over your money. This will be the death of freedom.

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