The legislature of Japan has recently announced that it will formally recognize Bitcoins as a currency. What this means is that banks and other financial institutions which are regulated by the government will be required to have trained staff who can process Bitcoins and Japanese citizens will be able to make payments at government-operated facilities.
The decision did not come without a fight though as many of the lawmakers pointed out the seedier side of Bitcoins and it’s used in illegal activities and as a device for money laundering. Of course one of the main benefits of Bitcoins is the anonymity that comes with it but proponents also point to the low processing fees and ease of use compared to credit cards or other payment processors.
The value of Bitcoins increased substantially as many see Japan as the first real victory going forward in the quest to have Bitcoins be available and usable anywhere in the world. There is no doubt that if the process in Japan goes smoothly, other major countries will also quickly follow suit. It is unlikely that the USA will embrace Bitcoins for a long time since most of the most well-publicized criminal Bitcoin cases have occurred in the USA.