BITPoint Japan Co., the company behind Peach Aviation Ltd.’s move to let travelers use bitcoin to pay for tickets, is planning to give hundreds of thousands of Japanese retail outlets the ability to accept the digital currency.
“We’re holding discussions with a retail-related company,” Genki Oda, BITPoint’s president, said in a recent interview. “By going through a company providing payment terminal services to shops, we have the possibility of increasing its use at one stroke. It’s easier than talking to lots of individual retailers.”
BITPoint is joining a flurry of companies embracing regulations, enacted in Japan last month, that recognize digital currencies as a form of payment. That has helped to make yen trades one of the world’s largest transaction pools, exceeding China’s pole position at the end of 2016, according to Oda. Bic Camera Inc., one of the country’s biggest electronics retailers, began accepting bitcoin at two stores in Tokyo last month.
“We’re also talking to a big convenience store operator about using it,” said Oda, 36, who also runs BITPoint parent Remixpoint Co., which had a market value of about 21 billion yen ($189 million) on Friday. He said he’s aiming to make an announcement by early next year. The shares of Remixpoint rose as much as 18 percent to their daily price limit. Last week, Remixpoint said it will convert debt issued to BITPoint into equity, raising its ownership in the subsidiary to 97.7 percent.
Bitcoin, which debuted eight years ago, is gaining wider use as a way to pay for goods and services, and lets people transact without oversight from governments, regulators or central banks. The virtual currency has been rallying against the dollar and other fiat currencies and was trading at $2,210 on Monday, near record highs.
While BITPoint operates as a bitcoin exchange, it’s pushing to promote the use of the cryptocurrency in stores and other retail outlets, instead of as a speculative instrument. The company currently has ties with tens of retailers and plans to expand that number, Oda said.
A change in Japanese law on April 1 formalized rules around anti-money laundering and put in place standards for security and audits. Restaurant booking site Gurunavi Inc. will start letting diners pay with bitcoin later this year, the Nikkei newspaper reported last month. “It’s funny how the whole narrative of bitcoin being risky or dangerous has changed, and it is now seen as a form of pride to regulate and embrace it,” said Thomas Glucksmann, head of marketing at Hong Kong-based bitcoin exchange Gatecoin.
Asked about the recent climb in bitcoin’s value, Oda said he’s wary of the sudden jump and doesn’t think it’s sustainable. At the same time, Japanese investors and day traders are taking a serious look at bitcoin as an asset class, thanks to the new regulations, he said, adding that several large foreign exchange brokerages will begin bitcoin trading in the coming months, boosting volumes.
Still, it’s unclear whether bitcoin payments can become more than a marketing gimmick. The biggest hurdles include long network confirmation times and high transaction fees. While many bitcoin community members rallied around a new proposal last week to fix the problem, deep differences within the group have led to several similar solutions falling through since 2015.