by Evan Sixtin
In Japan, the past and future meet with the adoption of bitcoin as a payment method to accept international donations for the restoration and maintenance of the ancient Hirosaki Castle.
Also referred to as the Takaoka Castle, this National Historic Site is a hirayama-style Japanese castle built in 1611 by the Tsugaru clan and reconstructed in 1810. It is constructed of wood and stone and located in Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture, Japan. Surrounding the castle grounds is the Hirosaki Park containing 2,600 cherry trees, originally planted in 1903, which are visited by over a million people during the Japanese Golden Week holidays at the end of April and beginning of May when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
The city of Hirosaki has partnered with Coincheck, a Japanese bitcoin exchange, to allow people all over the world to easily donate to the upkeep of this highly-valued relic of Japanese history. According to one Hirosaki city official, it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain the 50 different varieties of cherry trees at Hirosaki and $1.7 million dollars to maintain the stone walls of the castle structures (donjons, yaguras, and gates) every year. Hirosaki began accepting bitcoin donations on April 20, 2017, and as of 3 p.m. on May 2, 96 people have donated a total of 1.0755 bitcoins.
Using bitcoin to fund a National Historic Site is a first for local government in Japan, and the first time a Japanese Bitcoin exchange has had the opportunity to provide a platform for this type of funding. Government staff at Hirosaki city explained their reasons for using Bitcoin:
"When collecting donations from overseas, features of blockchain such as “fast payment process,” “low processing fees” and “transparency and security of transaction” enhances the efficiency of funding. Furthermore, Bitcoin donation enables sending money quickly just by reading QR code with a smartphone as well as checking the progress and outcome of donation in real time. We thought these characteristics of blockchain could help increase satisfaction and provide memorable gifting experience for donors. We also expect bitcoin donation to be a unique tourism promotion. When it comes to more practical benefits, bitcoin donation requires much lower initial cost and running cost compared to a traditional method."
As a tourist destination, Hirosaki is an attractive option for any traveler’s itinerary. Located in the southwestern area of Aomori Prefecture, it is surrounded by abundant nature. Mt. Iwaki is to the west of it, and the World Natural Heritage Shirakami Mountains are to the south. This area is known for producing the largest volume of apples in Japan. Besides the castle town of the Hirosaki domain, there are also numerous cultural properties such as temples, shrines, samurai residences, and hybrid Western-Japanese style buildings built in Meiji and Taisho era. The Hirosaki castle itself is known as one of the 12 existing original castles remaining since the Edo period. In the spring, cherry blossoms appear on thousands of cherry trees surrounding the castle.
One big reason for the Hirosaki bitcoin donation campaign is to promote tourism. Hirosaki government hopes that in accepting bitcoin as a global funding platform, bitcoiners and many other people around the world will become aware and attracted to the Hirosaki castle and park and will desire to visit these places during their stay in Japan.
Since Japan’s official recognition of bitcoin as a legal payment method on April 1, 2017, Japanese businesses, prefectural governments, banks, organizations, and private citizens have begun to explore the possibilities that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies can provide as a way to lubricate the slow and bulky legacy forms of financial transaction. The benefits of cryptocurrencies, such as convenience, speed, transparency, and borderless payments, open up new pathways of doing business, organizing government services, and can make life easier on a day to day basis for individuals and larger organizations alike.