According to the WSJ, Kraken’s planned Japanese bitcoin exchange is set to launch by the end of the month. The news comes as it was reported in August that the firm was planning to expand its operation to Japan. In an interview with the WSJ, Kraken CEO Jesse Powell was quoted as saying “We look forward to bringing our expertise and service to Japan, where we will fulfill the overdue need for an exchange.” Specifically, Kraken is aiming to provide bitcoin trading denominated in the Japanese yen to appeal to the local market.
For Kraken, the expansion into yen trading, follows their interest in capturing market share of non-dollar denominated bitcoin trading. Since launching to the public in the second half of 2013, Kraken has become less focused on the dollar, while becoming one of the leading exchanges of Euro denominated bitcoin trading. The focus on Europe can be contributed to fewer restrictions Kraken has with onboarding and receiving fiat payments from customers in the region compared to that of the US.
While many European countries are known for having an active bitcoin eco-system, Japan poses a more difficult test for Kraken.
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Bitcoins aren’t new in Japan, as failed exchange MtGox was headquartered in the country. However, their existence in Japan had less to do about serving the local market, and more was a matter of convenience as they were able to create strong banking relationships with banks in the country (until the end of 2013) to accept and send payments to customers around the world. MtGox’s failure and bankruptcy making national headlines in the country also provides a negative backdrop that Kraken will need to overcome when they launch.
What ultimately could become either the greatest barrier for Kraken’s success or allow them to flourish is the country’s advanced technological prowess. Mobile banking and payments systems such as what Apple Pay is now only introducing in the US have been available in Japan for several years. In other contrast, while Yahoo is viewed as a laggard in making its content mobile friendly, at its Yahoo Japan counterpart, mobile growth has been a focus since the dawn of the smartphone, with the Japanese internet portal having become an acquirer of banking and financial trading companies to integrate within its mobile platform.
As such, Kraken, may have a tough time marketing bitcoins in Japan to a public whose payment solutions are currently well served. In addition, a weakening yen has made imported goods more expensive which has driven down demand for overseas goods where bitcoins provide value as a cross-border payment type.
On the other hand, the widespread adoption of mobile payments may make it easier to market to new customers who are more familiar with digital payments. In addition, bitcoin could find demand as an alternative asset to diversify with to shield against further declines in the yen.