History of Vintage Bitcoin NFTs in Japan: The Almost Forgotten Part of NFT History
Spells of Genesis (SoG) and Rarepepe have recently been “rediscovered” by the NFT community and have come back to life. Flagship NFTs like SATOSHICARD and the Nakamoto card in those collections now easily sell for half a million dollars, and other rare cards are selling left and right.
Some people refer to these tokens on the Bitcoin blockchain as “Vintage NFTs” as they were issued well before the term NFT was born, and they predate most NFT tokens in existence.
More importantly, some people believe these vintage NFTs carry historical significance, and their value will appreciate even more in the future as NFTs become mainstream. This is driving the sudden ascent of vintage NFTs as of late.
I was heavily involved with SoG and the Rarapepe community in the early days when digital collectibles were a niche field even inside the crypto industry. My main contribution to the ecosystem was to develop likely the world’s first mobile token wallet focused on early NFT collectibles called Book of Orbs in 2016 and 2017.
I also wrote a popular introductory article on the Rarepepe movement and highlighted the potential of tokenized game assets and collectibles on blockchain in March 2017. In recognition of my contribution, I was gifted an original Rarepepe titled “Kojipepe” as well.
But this article is not directly about Spells of Genesis or Rarepepe, but about even lesser-known history of early vintage NFTs in Japan.
Outside of a small number of Rarepepe collectors, vintage NFTs series in Japan such as Memorychain or Bitgirls are not widely recognized. Even less people understand their history or backstory. I have overlooked some new Pepe collectors wondering why there is a number of Japanese-style Rarepepe cards as well.
Pre-2017, before token collectibles or what’s now called NFTs become a thing, I’d argue Japan had the most exciting and advanced ecosystem for early NFT experiments and deserves its place in early NFT history. I hope their history and backstories will be remembered alongside Spells of Genesis, Rarepepe, and other vintage NFT tokens and survive for a long time.
Birth and Adoption of Early Creator Tokens in Japan (2014–2016)
Most likely, the earliest token on blockchain in Japan was issued by me back in October 2014.
I was still relatively new to the Bitcoin space myself. I thought an ability for individuals to issue, transfer, and trade original tokens on the blockchain in a similar fashion as Bitcoin was “potentially promising.”
Inspired by the LTBCOIN experiment run by the “Let’s Talk Bitcoin” community, I issued “CNPCOIN” in November 2014 on the Counterparty protocol to help promote my personal Bitcoin blog. Ethereum didn’t even exist in production yet, and Counterparty was the most functional and stable token platform at the time.
Around the same time, I also co-founded IndieSaure to develop a mobile Counterparty token wallet to explore interesting and new token use cases. IndieSquare Wallet later came to play an integral role for Counterparty users and token collectors.
Long story short, my token experiment turned out to be successful in Japan; by giving away CNPCOINs to those who retweeted my articles, my blog became popular in the Japanese community.
Furthermore, finding this type of token fascinating, some other content creators in Japan also started issuing tokens soon after. By early 2016, it became a casual trend for Japanese crypto users to issue their original token for fun and social interaction.
As the number of early token users organically grew, Japan had quietly become one of the most advanced and unique markets for token projects in the world by 2017. This is notable because this kind of familiarity with tokens and token culture later contributed to the existence of Japan-themed SoG and Rarepepe NFT tokens and the birth of original projects such as Bitgirls and Memorychain.
Spells of Genesis and Japan (2015–2017)
I think it’s fair to say that SoG was the first meaningful project to explore the blockchain gaming space. They also invented and implemented many early important NFT concepts that are still relevant today.
With a combination of token familiarity mentioned above and a high interest in gaming in general, Japan was also one of the biggest markets for SoG in 2015–2017. Some of the early SoG cards were based on actual projects in Japan due to Japan’s importance for SoG in the early days.
Most notably, CNPCARD, with which I collaborated with SoG personally, was the first Japan-themed SoG card. If I’m not mistaken, it may also be the first NFT purchased by a third-party creator token, CNPCOIN. To create value for CNPCOIN holders, I suggested that SoG make CNPCARD buyable with my coin to promote SoG on my blog for the Japanese audience. This gave the first legitimate use case to CNPCOIN, and it started trading on the Counterparty dex by users afterward.
Other notable early SoG cards based on Japanese projects or companies are SHUMAICARD, ZAIFCARD, SARUTOBICARD, and CCMCARD. SHUMAICARD did the same scheme as CNPCARD. ZAIFCARD was the first SoG card to collaborate with a cryptocurrency exchange(if I’m not mistaken), and SARUTOBICARD was the first cross-game collaboration NFT which I will mention in the next section.
Birth of Cross Collaborative Tokens in Japan (2016–2017)
Japan is also the birthplace of some interesting real-world use cases of cross token collaboration.
Christian Moss, the founder of Mandelduck and a co-founder of Zebedee currently, lived in Tokyo between 2015–2018 and was working closely with IndieSquare and Spells of Genesis on token-related projects back in the day.
He developed a unique Bitcoin geocaching app called “Takara”(which means treasure in Japanese) in 2016, which is similar to PokemonGo but instead of catching monsters, you catch actual bitcoins on the map. Then in July 2016, he decided also to integrate Counterparty tokens on Takara, making it the first interesting cross token collaboration use case.
Many Japanese users started dropping their creator tokens on Takara looking for social interaction, but some SoG cards, with real monetary value, were also dropped for promotional purposes. This type of cross-collaboration or composability was very new at the time. We observed some interesting organic phenomena on Takara.
For example, Takara was used to distribute a bunch of early Rarepepe cards and Pepecash. Some lucky users at the time might have picked up the now-famous Nakamoto card and other series one Rarepepe NFTs for free. If I had known then what is happening now, I would have traveled all over the globe to pick up all these ultra Rarepepe, and I’d now live a comfortable life in the Caribbean.
In addition to Takara, Chris implemented the first real example of cross-game tokens as well.
SaruTobi, the world’s first mobile Bitcoin tipping game, also integrated Counterparty tokens similarly to Takara. SARUTOBICARD, SATOSHICARD, ZAIRCARD and CNPCARD were among the first cards which became cross-game compatible by proving the token ownership via IndieSqure Wallet.
Zaif and Bitgirls(2016–2017)
I haven’t mentioned Zaif yet, but they also played a significant role in early token adoption in Japan. Zaif is one of the major crypto exchanges in Japan to this day, and they were highly active in the early NFT ecosystem until crypto regulation in Japan tightened in 2018.
Zaif’s most prominent NFT project is Bitgirls, a TV show announced in September 2016 and aired through March 2017. The show’s main concept was essentially tokenization of female idols where supporters could vote for their favorite contestants by buying their original tokens. The Bitgirls tokens were also issued on Counterparty as IndieSquare and Zaif were in business collaboration at the time.
Unfortunately, the show ended quickly after only five months of airing. However, you can say that it was the first time the early concept of NFTs on blockchain was featured in mainstream media in Japan and quite possibly in the world.
At the end of the show, most Bitgirls tokens in the market were retrieved by Zaif in exchange for “physical” trading cards. Furthermore, Zaif later stopped withdrawals of these Bitgirls tokens from their exchange due to increased onchain fees and stricter regulation. As a result, the Bitgirls token supply left in the market is very limited, making this historic NFT even rarer unintentionally.
Force of Will (2016–2017)
This project had a very short life, but some vintage NFT collectors still inquire with me about it from time to time.
Force of Will (FoW) is a popular trading card game title created by a Japanese game company. We collaborated with them and helped tokenize their game items in August 2016. At the time, I was in charge of developing Book of Orbs, the first mobile wallet focused on NFTs, and FoW had a dedicated collection page along with Spells of Genesis and Rarepepe.
Unfortunately, they decided to back off quickly after seeing the result of their initial card sales in April 2017. FoW tokens didn’t see much use beyond experimental integration with their beta product.
That said, FoW at the time was the most legit game company that went through the loop and tokenized game items on the blockchain. In addition to that, it was the first NFT project to implement a “booster pack” scheme and sold packs of randomly picked tokens which WILLCOIN, their tokenized in-game currency, could draw. I heard NBA Top Shot and some other projects also use a similar scheme now, but FoW booster pack or Gacha as we call it in Japanese was likely the first of its kind.
Memorychain and Oasis Mining (2017)
Last but not least, likely the most well-known Japanese vintage NFT project outside Japan is Memorychain and Oasis Mining.
After Rarepepe went viral in the global community, Japanese artists also took an interest in it, to my surprise, and started creating their own Rarepepe art around Series 5.
I have seen some new Rarepepe collectors wondering why there are several Japan-themed Rarepepe. It is due to a combination of the Rarepepe’s dank meme’s appeal itself and familiarity with NFT in Japan, as explained earlier in this article.
But as Rarepepe became too popular with a long waitlist for creators, Japanese artists started demanding more opportunities to produce NFT artwork and even more freedom. To respond to their request, I started organizing Memorychain for Japanese creators in March 2017 in an homage to Rarepepe.
The central concept of Memorychain was to create illustrations and memes based on actual events, persons, and projects in the crypto space to immortalize our memories on the blockchain. This sparked some original crypto art with a mixture of Japanese anime-style illustration, Rarepepe, and a piece of crypto history.
Oasis Mining is a spinoff of Memorychain but with even fewer rules and restrictions due to increased demand from the artists to produce personification of cryptocurrencies. The most well-known NFT art in Oasis Mining is the Bitcoin Girl NFT, which was used as Elon Musk’s Twitter profile for a while for whatever reason.
Memorychain and Oasis Mining are essentially just copies of Rarepepe.
However, they were the first localized creator-driven NFT series outside Rarepepe, and they still predate most NFT tokens in existence.
The Present and Future of NFT
By the end of 2017, I left the NFT space and haven’t closely followed the ecosystem since then. There is probably no need to explain the history of NFT post-2018 to me either way.
I left the token/NFT space partly due to the increased fees levels on the Bitcoin blockchain started in 2017, which made many of the token use cases on Counterparty difficult to near infeasible. I saw the need for building a functional second layer in the longer term from my own experience, and that’s what I am focusing on with the Lightning Network now.
Fast forward four years, NFTs on Ethereum are facing the same but even more catastrophic fee problem. This was easily predictable if you were involved with NFTs on Bitcoin in 2016 and 2017. I believe that many token applications, including NFTs should be built on different layers or perhaps on other blockchains, depending on the purpose.
Nonetheless, NFTs have gone mainstream this year, and some NFTs have easily sold for millions of dollars. Many “NFT experts” have suddenly come out of nowhere and started touting NFTs limitless potential and how it will redefine the creator economy and so on.
Personally, I’m not too fond of the overblown hype around NFTs at the moment. Although I still believe NFT and digital collectibles on the blockchain, in general, will live for a long time, it’s not some magic to turn your garbage into a digital equivalent of a gold bar. The current hype will end very soon, or it is already coming to an end as we speak, as the trading volume of NFTs dropped this past week or two significantly. Then, most NFTs will lose 99% of market value, and they will be quickly forgotten and won’t regain any monetary value.
And yet, there are these vintage NFTs like SoG and Rarepepe, which survived four years of neglect from the world, which is equivalent to forever in the industry standard, and came back from the ashes as more people rediscover and appreciate their historical significance.
In my opinion, vintage NFTs proved in this cycle that as long as there are people who still remember the real history and background of these early NFT stories, vintage NFTs will likely retain their values as you cannot replicate historical significance.
Also, likely equally importantly, their relatively fair distribution is a crucial factor and hard to replicate. The monetary value of vintage NFTs in the early days was very low, and nobody expected the meteoritic price rise that we see today.
I know this is a bit of a stretch, but it resembles Bitcoin’s so-called “immaculate conception,” and therefore, these vintage NFTs very well might become the SoVs of the NFT world just like Bitcoin is to the entire crypto ecosystem.
Either way, the current NFT bubble will pop, including these vintage NFTs sooner or later, but I am more confident now that these vintage NFTs will likely survive another few years just like before. The Rarepepe community is still weird as hell, but they seem to refuse to go away, which is probably one of their biggest strengths.
Lastly, I hope this article helps more people understand and remember the little-known piece of NFT history in Japan. I hope they survive and are remembered along with other vintage NFTs. After all, that’s why I named it Memorychain in the first place.