National

Aomori city sees bitcoin as way to attract overseas tourists

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

The castle city of Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture, has moved into the digital currency age with the launch of a project to use bitcoin to lure international travelers and preserve the city’s historic attractions, an apparent first by a Japanese municipality using a cryptocurrency.

The main purpose of the plan, which is seeking donations via the blockchain technology to help take care of about 2,600 cherry trees and the stone wall of Hirosaki Castle, is actually to promote the city by creating an easy donation platform that will hopefully incentivise those who make contributions to visit the city, said Kenji Suzuki, a Hirosaki city official.

“If people in other countries make donation through bitcoin in a casual manner, it’s possible that they will start forming attachments to Hirosaki and maybe think about visiting one day,” he said.

While cross-border money transfers through banks take time and can be expensive, sending bitcoin from overseas is easy, quick and almost free of charge. Thus, bitcoin is an easy way to collect donations from people in other countries.

He added that the city is not in desperate need for cash, so the project is mainly a tourism promotion using a new technology.

According to Suzuki, it costs about several tens of millions of yen to maintain the cherry trees and about ¥200 million to take care of the stone wall annually. The city started repairing the castle wall several years ago because of the risk of collapse if a huge earthquake hit.

The city decided to use donations to take care of the cherry trees and the wall, both of which are located inside Hirosaki Park and are the most popular tourist attractions there.

Hirosaki started accepting cryptocurrency donations beginning April 20 after partnering with Coincheck, a Tokyo-based startup that runs a bitcoin exchange.

As of around 3 p.m. Tuesday, the city recorded 1.0755 worth of bitcoin (about ¥178,000) that was donated by 96 people.

The Hirosaki official said the city has neither set a goal for the amount of bitcoin it wants to collect nor decided how long it will run the donation drive.

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