The official mascot of Hachinohe, Japan is not a majestic tiger, heroic fire-breathing dragon, or even an impish anime character adorned in Sailor Moon attire—it is Yopparai Hoyagi, which translated from (Hachinohe vernacular) Japanese means “drunk old man.”
In a country with one of the highest life expectancies in the world, Aomori Prefecture, which hosts Hachinohe within its borders, conspicuously finds itself dead-last in the average age of death rankings for Japan. With its salty foods, long cold winters, ubiquitous sake consumption, and increasingly disenfranchised workforce, Hachinohe and its neighboring Amori-bound villages are doomed to occupy their dubious ranking for decades to come.
As professional eaters (or “foodies” as the culinary elite annoyingly refer to themselves), we learned long ago that the best grub is always found in the locales with the unhealthiest populations. A night-time stroll down the incandescent alleyways of Hachinohe echoes this plaintive reality. However, admonitions of gluttony are of little concern for hungry tourists with cash to burn. Tonight, the prodigious servings of shellfish, fatty tuna, and salmon eggs have us blithely digging our graves with our teeth. We shuttle between the neighborhood’s most exotic eateries and bars—with our bellies growing ever full of exotic foodstuffs and sake—pausing periodically to conjure a whiff of nostalgia for the crypto kings that ruled these supernatural thoroughfares over 1,000 years ago.
Many of these beguiling streets and their adjoining parcels are inhabited by descendants of Japan’s long-forgotten Emishi tribes, who ultimately met their demise at the end of the 8th Century. The Emishi, referred to as “Shrimp Barbarians” by the Provincial Japanese of the time, are credited with the establishment of horse archery in Japan. The Emishi’s arsenal of fast-moving guerilla fighting tactics shocked and stymied the infantry-heavy Japanese Imperial Army for hundreds of years. They were monstrous fighters who continually–against all odds– staved off their subjection and subsequent integration into a centrally governed Japan.
There is one important detail about the Emishi that has been documented copiously by Japanese historians but seems to consistently (and curiously) escape examination by Japanese scholars in the West: the Emishi were Asia’s foremost practitioners of vampirism. They regularly feasted on human blood.
Hands off the Crypto
After being decisively defeated and humbled by the Japanese Imperial Army, most Emishi chose to completely capitulate to Imperial rule and assume the vicissitudes of civilized life. Those tribes that resided closer to the sea turned to fishing to make ends meet; however, many living inland became avid students of agriculture, where they developed into masters of rice cultivation.
With its long shelf-life (nine years), easily divisible proportions, and buoyancy of texture, rice became the leading medium of exchange in Northern Japan, at a time when metallic coins were still largely absent from daily commerce. Prices of goods and services, as well as debts, were tracked in terms of rice. As rice became the most important commodity in Japan, the Emishi descendants began to gain power and influence with the Japanese Imperial government for the first time.
But with influence comes attention. The Imperial government needed revenue to run the country’s bureaucracy and maintain its growing armies. Taxes needed to be collected; those taxes would be taken from the villages, farmers, merchants, and traders that were sitting on the biggest stashes of rice.
The dynamics of power would now change forever. Power would no longer be derived and maintained from what could be publicly flaunted, but from what was concealed. The hiding of rice, in mountain caves, in volcanic-ash pits, and in the hollows of trees became necessary to preserve wealth. Those farmers who figured out how to creatively hide [crypto] their rice [currency] windfalls—from the taxman and other extortionists—would be able to hold onto their wealth. By necessity, these ancient Japanese businessmen became some of the world’s first crypto kings.
Meeting the Crypto Kings
On the heels of our night-stalking in Hachinohe, we traveled to Aomori City to take a gander at the festive likenesses of these ancient crypto kings. Flexing brutish biceps and bloodthirsty snarls, their kaleidoscopic bodies were laying waste to any man or beast that dared to piss them off or abscond with their bags of rice. These crypto kings were hardcore.
We could imagine the fate that might meet an overzealous tax collector who dared wander into the wrong part of town. Perhaps he could be bribed with a night of fancy food and gifts, resulting in a half-assed inspection—what was crypto would stay crypto. However, if the collector insisted on playing by the book, remaining recalcitrant in his inspection expectations, he might be dealt with in another way: he may be granted a permanent vacation, with the neighborhood crypto kings ultimately feasting on his blood.
William Laurent is Blockster’s Editor in Chief. Widely published throughout his career, Will is regularly featured in American Banker, Foundry, and Tech for Good to name a few. He’s advised over 30 Fortune 500 companies across North America and Asia on content strategy, data visualization, and digital/cultural transformation. He is an influential educator, writer, artist, crypto dad, and husband. His artwork and NFTs are sought-after collectibles. Connect with William on DeSo and LinkedIn.