Question marks are surrounding Japan’s cryptocurrency exchange industry following the closure of two bitcoin exchange operators at the end of March. Mr. Exchange and Tokyo GateWay were told to cease trading immediately after returning funds to retail investors, according to Nikkei. Heightened regulator scrutiny of Japanese bitcoin exchanges has meant both Mr. Exchange and Tokyo GateWay have withdrawn applications previously filed with the nation’s Financial Services Agency (FSA) to unveil crypto services to domestic customers.
Since the hacking of Coincheck earlier this year, which saw $533 million worth of the cryptocurrency NEM being stolen by cyber-criminals, lawmakers have come down hard on cryptocurrency exchanges in Japan. Now, as part of a scheme introduced last April, all trading platforms must secure a license to legally operate in Japan from the FSA. It’s not yet clear whether Mr. Exchange or Tokyo GateWay failed in their efforts to obtain an FSA license. Nevertheless, at the end of March, bitcoin fell to its lowest price in a number of weeks due partly to the shutdown of these Japanese exchanges and a blanket ban on Twitter advertising on the cryptocurrency.
As of the New Year, the entire cryptocurrency market had been worth over $800 billion but, as of the end of March, the market’s total value had collapsed to less than $300 billion. On March 30, the traded bitcoin price and US-based investors are watching keenly fell by more than 5% to less than $7,500. The move by Twitter to join Google and Facebook in banning cryptocurrency adverts is said to have had a considerable effect on the price of bitcoin lately, maintaining the negativity in Japan, which is widely regarded as the cryptocurrency capital of the world.
Concerns linger regarding many other bitcoin exchanges that have previously been permitted to operate without official FSA licensing. Four additional unregistered crypto exchanges, Bit Station, FSHO, Raimu and bitExpress have opted to close their doors without prompting and others that choose not to apply for FSA licenses will be forced to follow suit.
In recent months, some of the world’s largest banks are becoming increasingly wary of the prospect of bitcoin being used to fund criminal activity. Lloyds Banking Group denied its customers from using their credit cards to purchase bitcoin, stating the move would expose customers to significant losses if bitcoin was to fall drastically in value. At that point, bitcoin was valued at over $11,000 in the markets but investor sentiment has been somewhat volatile ever since, resulting in the price ebbing and flowing significantly.
That sentiment was shaken following the news that Tokyo GateWay’s website had been taken offline promptly, with no official line from the exchange on why it had ceased operations. However, a blog post dated March 29 from Mr. Exchange officially confirmed that it had withdrawn its FSA application admitting it is “difficult to be in a state of readiness” to adapt to “changes in the virtual currency landscape.”
On the plus side, 16 cryptocurrency exchanges have successfully received their FSA license since the new scheme began. The fact that leading internet giant, Yahoo! appears keen on launching its own domestic virtual currency operation by next April suggests it’s still possible to thrive in Japan’s regulated cryptocurrency arena.