After hinting several times over the past year or so that it wants to accept Bitcoin on its marketplaces, Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten announced today that it will start to accept the cryptocurrency on its global marketplaces. The rollout will begin in America, and then spread to Rakuten Germany and Rakuten Austria.
Bitnet, an enterprise-focused developer that creates bitcoin platforms, is Rakuten’s partner in the rollout. Bitnet is a young company, founded in January 2014, but it is not your average startup. The team behind the firm also created CyberSource, a payment gateway sold to Visa for US$2 billion.
“Rakuten’s mission is to empower the world through the Internet,” commented Yaz Iida, president of Rakuten USA in a statement. “Not only can Bitcoin support this vision by helping our merchants better compete globally, but it also has the potential to benefit society by enhancing the security, privacy, and convenience of financial transactions. This is one of the reasons why we invested in Bitnet last year and we look forward to working with them on our US marketplace.”
Rakuten’s move indicates that it is moving closer and closer to accepting Bitcoin. Already, its American logistics subsidiary accepts the currency. With its core ecommerce operations now getting integrated, it could just be a matter of time before the Japan office follows suit.
It would not be the first Japanese tech titan to accept Bitcoin. GMO Internet set that precedent last September. However, Rakuten’s integration of bitcoin domestically could be the sort of move that pushes the currency into the mainstream. Rakuten is used by almost every adult in Japan. It has over 97 million registered users while Japan itself has a population of 127 million. Those users drove JPY 2 trillion (US$16.5 billion) worth of sales last year.
For Japanese bitcoin enthusiasts, the march towards widespread acceptance in their country is a long slog. With Rakuten’s latest signal of support, the goal becomes less of a mirage and more of an steadily approaching reality.