BY Paul Chan AND Yuzo Sakuramoto in Opinion | 29 NOV 22
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Issue 231

How Tominaga Nakamoto’s Philosophy Inspired the Rumoured Bitcoin Inventor

Paul Chan selects passages from the philosopher whose work may have influenced the creation of the biggest cryptocurrency

BY Paul Chan AND Yuzo Sakuramoto in Opinion | 29 NOV 22

The following is excerpted from Paul Chan’s new book, Above All Waves (2022), a newly translated selection of passages by Tominaga Nakamoto, the 18th century philosopher said to have inspired the inventor of Bitcoin. –Marko Gluhaich

On 31 October 2008, someone going by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto published a technical paper entitled ‘Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System’ to an online cryptography mailing list. […] The person (or people) behind the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto remains a mystery to this day. Over the years, theories have appeared about Satoshi’s real identity. A few people have even publicly claimed to be Bitcoin’s inventor. But no definitive proof has arisen. In 2015, a new rumour began to circulate in online posts and press coverage of Bitcoin: that the name Satoshi Nakamoto was inspired, at least in part, by an obscure and largely forgotten ‘merchant’ philosopher from18th-century Japan named Tominaga Nakamoto.

Paul Chan, Tominago 1 (detail), 2022. Courtesy: Badlands Unlimited 

These rumours have never been substantiated. Satoshi never directly mentions Tominaga in any of the online correspondences publicly available at this time. And even though reputable publications like London Review of Books, The Economist and The Guardian have cited the link between Tominaga and Satoshi, they chiefly rely on anonymously leaked documents and references by Craig Wright, a controversial Australian computer scientist and businessman who, since 2016, has maintained that he created Bitcoin.

This book offers no new evidence that Satoshi was inspired by Tominaga beyond the story of Tominaga’s life and his own words. As the reader will see, it is not hard to grasp how Tominaga’s most vital insights align with the central ideas that make Bitcoin so remarkable. Still, like Satoshi’s real identity, the relationship that binds Satoshi and Tominaga remains speculative. Above All Waves attempts to find value in this relationship even though (and perhaps because) its veracity may turn out to be demonstrably false. What might a rumour tell us? What value does it hold beyond its relationship to facts? If the story of Satoshi Nakamoto remains untold, then perhaps the story of the life and ideas of Tominaga Nakamoto can shed light on the intellectual, political and cultural milieu that would consider him a worthy inspiration for something as radical and provocative as Bitcoin. –Paul Chan

Paul Chan, Couple 1 (detail), 2022. Courtesy: Badlands Unlimited 

No matter the country and no matter the age, the Way is the Way, but it is vital for the living to practise the Way of all Ways. The ways that cannot be practised are not Ways of Truth.


The truth is, when our aspiration is to do good, what can go wrong? I do not care about those who do not practise goodness by unnecessarily indulging in illusions or ornate language.


I am not a follower of Confucianism, Taoism or Buddhism. Situating myself within their thinking while observing their words and deeds, I secretly make my arguments.


We should aspire to be profoundly ordinary in all matters.

Passages translated by Yuzo Sakuramoto.

This article first appeared in frieze issue 231 with the headline ‘Radical Provocateur’.

Main image: Paul Chan, Pet and sandals (detail), 2022. Courtesy: Badlands Unlimited 

Paul Chan is an artist and publisher. His travelling exhibition ‘Paul Chan:Breathers’ is currently on view at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Missouri.

Yuzo Sakuramoto is a translator and bookseller based in New York.