The mother of all cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin, was apparently created by Satoshi Nakamoto, an individual using a Japanese name; no one is sure that he’s really Japanese. However, this is one reason why Japan is fond of bitcoin — perhaps a bit of nationalist pride.
What many people don’t know is that Japan does have its own indigenous cryptocurrency, Monacoin, which began almost as a joke in 2013. It’s become a serious commodity in recent years but is it worth investing in?
Monacoin currently has a market capitalization of roughly $220 million (1 Monacoin=$3.74) but last December its value surged to more than a billion dollars, trading at almost $20 per Monacoin. Like all cryptocurrencies, the value is subject to massive fluctuations but in recent weeks the price seems to be rising again.
It was created in December, 2013 via a posting on Japan’s ubiquitous Internet bulletin board, 2channel. It should be noted that 2channel, also known as “2chan,” was also the inspiration for 4chan, a bulletin board for Internet discourse in America, plagued with controversy. However, in Japan, 2channel is still a vibrant forum for whistleblowers, hackers, commenters and sometimes breaking news.
This cryptocurrency was initially introduced by an individual, male or female, under the name “Mr. Watanabe.” Like the creator of Bitcoin, Mr. Watanabe has never revealed his or her actual name. In addition, Mr. Watanabe has played little part in the development of the cryptocurrency since it began but is widely believed to be Japanese.
Mr. Watanabe in his original forum post introducing Monacoin, described the currency as a kind of game currency, much like the ones used in the hugely popular Final Fantasy video game. It was modelled after other Japan-developed video games that have their own proprietary currencies. Mr. Watanabe also made it clear that Monacoin was not designed to be a cryptocurrency. Nobody paid much attention to the creator on that point, like “Frankenstein’s monster,” it has taken on a life of its own.
The name of the coin comes from “Mona,” an ASCII art drawn character that resembles a cat emoji, and has long been popular on the 2channel bulletin board.
Monacoin was officially born on January 1, 2014. A Bitcoin Talk Forum on the same date detailed the coin’s launch and its specifications. It is based on Litecoin technology, but its volunteer network of developers and users have improved upon it over time, making the currency very fast to send and relatively secure. The Monacoin Foundation is an important nexus of the movement but it is still very much a grassroots community rather than a highly-organized network.
It was after the collapse of what was the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox in Tokyo, in 2014, that Monacoin began to get some favorable press , being introduced as “safe and made in Japan.” It was featured on the Tokyo TV Network, WBS, which introduced a man purchasing a plot of land with Monacoin, and showed him building a Shinto shrine to Monacoin. The rationale seeming to be that in Japan, which is originally a polytheistic and animist country, any cryptocurrency worth having should be inhabited by a God. It certainly couldn’t hurt.
There are now at least four major currency exchanges in Japan where monacoin is traded, including ZAIF, and at least five online stores and physical stores that accept Monacoin. There are also an increasing number of ATMs in Japan that deal in Monacoin, and because it is Japan’s first cryptocurrency, it has a solid fanbase. A Monacoin tipping system was also developed by a high school student and allows people to “tip” (give) Monacoin to others via Twitter. On March 23, JIT Holdings announced it was starting a service in Japan that would permit Japanese citizens to purchase real estate with Monacoin. It claims to be the first company in Japan to offer such a service, which it eventually hopes to extend overseas.
Monacoin is still mostly used within Japan, with its international usage very limited . However, anyone can download the apps that let you use it. It is still mineable, if you have the time and computer power to do it. However, will the coin really last or will it end up like many Japanese proprietary formats, such as BETAMAX, a great idea and good technology that becomes obsolete in the face of the competition?
“The merits of Monacoin are that it’s more a means of payment than a source of speculation. The community makes it easy to use. The ability to tip easily in Monacoin via Twitter etc. makes it increasingly used online. The handling fees for it are extremely low compared to other means of payment,” said Keiichi Hida, a leading voice on cryptocurrency in Japan.
But J. Maurice, a bitcoin expert and representative director at Wiz K.K. in Tokyo, is on the fence about the digital currency. “Monacoin is almost identical to Bitcoin with a few minor tweaks, which is cool, but once Bitcoin’s new lightning network reaches mainstream adoption, I think interest in all alternative coins will drop significantly.”
Sekino is correct in some ways. Monacoin is easy to use in Japan if you are a cryptocurrency exchange user or willing to shop online, but for the outsider, even finding articles on it in English is hard to do at present. However, once you get the hang of it, the appeal is certainly there. It’s an easy way to show appreciation with more than just a “like” but with some virtual cash to back it up.
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