On Campus: Kyoto University Professor Envisions Long-Tail Impact of Blockchain Study


Professor Naoyuki Iwashita was a crypto finance expert long before the craze of 2017—in fact, before it was even invented. 

As one of Japan’s leading economists and a financial expert, he began helping the Central Bank of Japan encrypt its systems in the mid-1990s. Today, he is helping lead Japan’s Kyoto University’s implementation of Ripple’s University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI).  

As part of this initiative, Kyoto University recently announced that it will be the first Japanese university to launch an XRP validator. Their effort will help the network verify and process transactions on the ledger.

Professor Iwashita’s work with digital assets are founded on a long and illustrious career in Japan’s banking industry. Through roles at the Bank of Japan, the Institute of Monetary Study and now as an advisor to Japan’s regulatory body, the Financial Services Agency (FSA), he has traveled the world learning about financial systems and encryption in other countries and serving as a translator of sorts in his home country—helping regulators understand the language of engineers and cryptologists. 

Ultimately, his insights and work were part of the effort to replace Data Encryption Standard (DES) with Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). He was also part of the team that instituted Japan’s early guidance on virtual currency regulations, culminating in the country’s formal regulations in 2017–some of the first in the world. 

Throughout these experiences, Professor Iwashita has consistently viewed blockchain and digital assets as the cutting-edge intersection of engineering, economics and the law. He believes this combination is also what’s so compelling about blockchain study at Kyoto University and the role UBRI can play, because it equips students to deliver well-rounded insights that can impact the world. 

Professor Iwashita considers traditional institutions like finance and government to be in the midst of great change caused by emerging technologies and players. This instability requires people and institutions with overlapping areas of expertise to harness it into positive transformation. 

Similarly, he believes that Japan’s education sector needs to experience a similar evolution. Traditionally, it has focused on learning to produce research that leads to graduation. Professor Iwashita sees the potential to remake education as interdisciplinary and instead focused on transformation. 

He feels the study of blockchain can jumpstart this evolution because it forces the study of interrelated fields like economics, business and law. Iwashita pictures research and work on this subject directly informing new policies and regulation. 

But he also envisions students forced to think differently about education that might use their knowledge of blockchain to attack bigger problems like climate change or global refugee populations. He acclaims the use of digital assets to advance financial inclusion globally.

It is exciting to imagine these world-changing concepts from tomorrow’s Kyoto University graduates can grow from UBRI-inspired and funded programs today. 

To learn more about UBRI, please visit our UBRI website and look for monthly Insights posts in the On Campus series.

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