New Bitcoin Embassies in Asia Bring World Total to 17

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Bitcoin Embassy SeoulBitcoin Embassy Seoul

Two new Asian 'bitcoin embassies' opened last week in Seoul and Tokyo, with a shared mission to bring bitcoin's message to a more general audience.

There are now 17 such advocacy centres worldwide, in all major regions except Africa. However, the organization behind the movement is currently in negotiations to set up embassies both there and in the Middle East.

Gangnam style

The Seoul centre is based at the Startup Alliance co-working space in trendy Gangnam.

Dongho 'Saddo' Park and Junyoung Park, both local software engineers and cryptocurrency fans, are the primary organizers of the embassy.

Speaking to CoinDesk, Dongho Park explained that many in mainstream Korean society still misunderstand bitcoin and blockchain technology. His mission, he said, is to educate them and enable more people to use the digital currency.

He said:

"Seoul is one of the most trend-leading cities in the world. But many people in Korea see bitcoin as just an old-fashioned cyber currency or some kind of mileage [scheme]. And some people even think that it's another type of fraud."

Park hopes people will stop focusing on bitcoin's value, and think of it as something other than a money-making investment.

Instead, they should focus on bitcoin as a currency and buy it to gain financial freedom, he said. He added that, while it isn't ready to replace fiat currencies just yet, bitcoin's underlying technology has proven to be safe for six years now.

Not just for geeks

Travelers Coworking space TokyoTravelers Coworking space Tokyo

Tokyo's Embassy, which opened on 5th January, is located at the Travelers Coworking space near Shinjuku train station – Japan's busiest.

Organizer Atsushi Ogisawa, who has run the coworking space for the past two years, explained that the embassy will hold seminars especially for beginners interested in bitcoin, and provide facilities for freelancers and small startups.

"Although Japan is one of the most technologically developed countries, I think most Japanese people are not so positive about bitcoin and other virtual currencies, and it looks like only geeks gather at some meetups in Tokyo," he said.

This scenario is probably due to past problems like Mt Gox, Ogisawa added, saying he wished to "fill the gap between beginners and experts".

He advised that new users should not be afraid of the technology, and that anyone who used bitcoin or other virtual currencies in real life would quickly and easily understand its possibilities.

The embassy movement

The Bitcoin Embassy Global Network website says the name "bitcoin embassy" refers to endorsed global locations where enthusiasts and the general public alike can come together to learn more about cryptocurrencies.

The name "bitcoin embassy" and its logo are trademarked to prevent misuse, according to the group. However, although they share a name and official endorsement, each embassy operates independently.

The first three embassies had opened in Montreal, Tel Aviv and Warsaw by early 2014, and their number has since grown to 17 recognized bitcoin centers worldwide.

New initiatives under consideration

All the embassies are staffed by volunteers. While some also serve as venues for meetup groups and co-working spaces, any space fulfilling the criteria could be recognized as an embassy.

One initiative currently being considered is a 'Busking for Bitcoins' day, where bitcoin embassies around the world go out into their cities to convince street performers the benefits of accepting bitcoin donations as well as regular cash.

This offers all the security benefits of electronic transactions over cash, Timpano said, but allows for small payments to independent payees that aren't possible with credit cards.

Mission to educate

Bruno Timpano, the 'ambassador' for the Bitcoin Embassy in Australia, said the embassies act like 'bitcoin colleges' for workshops and education.

He said:

"We aim to give bitcoin a physical space where the community can come for free and be educated, make a wallet, see mining equipment, and talk to other industry stakeholders."

While the movement is not about subversive projects, it is also not about pushing for KYC regulations or joining foundations, Timpano explained.

He said, however, that it is imperative for bitcoin's message to stay focused on its potential for positive impact on the world, and away from the mass-media mindset that it is "shadowy software" that is used mainly for illegal activities.