How to Buy Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies in Japan
With even the mysterious inventor of Bitcoin assuming a Japanese name (Satoshi Nakamoto), it’s fair to say that Japan has had a uniquely strong relationship with cryptocurrency from its very beginnings.
The cryptocurrency ecosystem is littered with Japanese words: from Cardano’s Yoroi (armor) wallet, to Polkadot’s blockchain named after Yayoi Kusama. But what about actually buying cryptocurrency here? In this article, I will look at the best ways to get into the crypto game while living in Japan.
Note: in this post I will share what I have done to invest in crypto while living in Japan, but please don’t take this as any kind of investment advice. Investing in crypto has caused some people to make truly staggering returns, but it is also possible to lose all of your money if you don’t invest wisely. Proceed at your own risk!
Bitflyer is the largest exchange in Japan with over 2 million users. It is a Japanese company which has been around since 2014. It is therefore highly liquid, meaning many people are using it so it is easy to buy and sell using JPY quickly.
The process of setting up an account is relatively painless. It took around 2 working days after submitting my documents for everything to be verified. What’s more, they have an English user interface and seemed to be content with the fact that the name on my utility bill was in katakana but the rest of my ID is in the Roman alphabet — is it patronizing of me to say that I was impressed by this? This kind of egregious discrepancy probably wouldn’t fly with a Japanese bank!
Each Bitflyer account has its own unique bank details which makes transferring money into your account a breeze. Unfortunately I don’t bank with Sumitomo Mitsui, which means I have to fork out 300 yen for the bank transfer fee each time I do this.
Bitflyer’s user interface is fairly straightforward. You can opt of the simple Buy / Sell screen which allows you to buy crypto directly from Bitflyer.
Click on the “Lightning” option to be brought to the actual exchange. If you have never used an exchange before, you might find the interface a bit intimidating at first, but it is really worth learning how it all works in my option. Bitflyer provides material designed to help you do just that.
The drawback of using Bitflyer is that it costs 800 yen to get money back into your bank account. Since I don’t plan on doing this often, this seems like a reasonable expense.
- Highly liquid JPY exchanges (many people are using it)
- Ability to fund account by domestic JPY bank transfer
- Easy to use
- Limited cryptocurrencies and products (no Dogecoin, boo!)
I used Kraken back in 2016 and let’s just say I wasn’t a fan. With very few people using it, there was not enough liquidity on the JPY exchanges to allow for easy trading (especially if you’re new to trading a end up doing a market order ?). They then shut their Japan operations in 2017, but reemerged in 2020. I haven’t tried the exchange since it has come back to Japan so I am not sure if liquidity is still an issue.
- Wide variety of coins
- Ability to fund account by domestic JPY bank transfer
- Less liquidity on JPY exchanges
Binance is the largest crypto exchange in the world by trading volume. While being a highly profitable private company, it seems to stay true to the decentralized ethos around cryptocurrency. In fact, it’s not really clear where the company is based and the management seem to constantly duck questions about this topic.
However, Binance does seem to be the most versatile platform with the widest variety of products I have found. You can earn interest on your crypto in a savings account and even stake your coins in liquid swap pools to earn fees. The ability to earn interest alone seems like a no-brainer if you’re planning on buying and “hodling” for the long term.
- Highly liquid exchanges with BUSD (Binance’s USD stable coin)
- Large variety of cryptocurrencies
- Staking and interest account products
- Payment by credit card available
- No JPY bank transfer
A Note on Crypto Staking
Bitcoin’s Proof of Work consensus model was undoubtedly a revolutionary idea when it was invented in 2009. For the first time in human history, exchanges of value in a completely decentralized manner without the need to trust a third party became possible, and the price of Bitcoin as an asset went to the astronomical highs that we see today as a result.
However, the amount of processing power needed to authenticate these transactions has caused Bitcoin to be tainted with the image of being an environmentally destructive asset. This is definitely a concern I have had. This is where of Proof of Stake comes in. The mechanics of how this works are beyond the scope of this post, but this is basically a much more environmentally friendly way of reaching a consensus in the system and authenticating transactions: coin owners are about to “stake” their currency to become part of the validation process and earn interest as a reward while doing so. At the time of writing, the second biggest cryptocurrency, Ether, is moving from a Proof of Work to a Proof of Stake model.
The reason I’m writing about this is that Binance allows you to easily stake the crypto that supports it with a very easy user interface. In my opinion this is a good way to get into staking to understand how it all works, while it’s probably more profitable to do some research and find a better way of staking eventually.
My method: buy on Bitflyer and then transfer to Binance
To be perfectly honest, I am quite surprised that it’s even possible to buy cryptocurrency on Binance with a Japanese credit card. It feels like the kind of thing that wouldn’t usually be possible if the card issuers knew what’s going on (maybe they don’t). In order to bypass the credit card fees and overall sketchiness of using my Japanese card to make purchases on Binance, I have opted to use Bitflyer as the “on-ramp” into the crypto world, and then transfer my BTC and ETH to the Binance wallets — from there, the Moon’s the limit!
This approach has enabled me to make use of all of the features Binance has to offer, such as interest-generating accounts and staking. I am aware that the next step to maximize gains is to set up staking myself using a wallet like Meta Mask, but haven’t quite got there yet! Binance makes it very easy to stake your cryptocurrency and earn interest.
As mentioned before, this article is not a recommendation on what coins to buy, but I will throw in a snapshot of my altcoin (non-bitcoin) portfolio for good measure.
I am currently staking ADA, BNB, ONE and DOT (I don’t have enough to stake ETH ?) and earning from 10 to 50% APY on these assets — rather nice returns!
This is a non-exhaustive list of the options available in Japan, but I wanted to share what has worked for me. Please let me know in the comments if you have any feedback or recommendations!
Found this post useful? Check out my article on how to buy Japanese stocks from within Japan if you’re interested in learning about that too!