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Rakuten logo.

Rakuten logo.

In a speech published by Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani mentioned his company’s likely integration of bitcoin payments later this year. Speaking to a meeting of Rakuten Ichiba (Rakuten Marketplace) e-commerce merchant partners, Mikitani said that the “internet revolution” was accelerating, and that Rakuten will “sooner or later” start accepting bitcoin. According to the report, Mikitani claimed the adoption was needed due to customers in countries with “unstable economies” who prefer the relative stability of bitcoin’s value over their local currency.

Largely unknown in the U.S., Rakuten is a powerhouse in the Japanese online retail and e-commerce industry. In 2013, the company had a total revenue topping $5 billion, placing it just behind Facebook in the list of top 10 internet companies. The company has major holdings all over the globe (including Kobo, Pinterest and Viber), and runs its own banking and credit card services.

Although there is no timeline for the proposed bitcoin integration, Mikitani’s announcement is likely intended to build up merchant interest in the concept before launch. Bitcoin adoption has been slow in Japan, in part due to the overwhelmingly negative and skeptical coverage following in the wake of the collapse of Tokyo-based exchange Mt.Gox earlier this year. In recent months, however, attitudes towards bitcoin seem to be shifting in the country, perhaps in part due to even sharper criticisms and concerns over the policies of the country’s central bank.

Given the wait-and-see attitudes of online retailers like Amazon, Google and Apple, Rakuten may soon become the largest online company to accept bitcoin payments.

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