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Japanese retailers quickly embracing bitcoin payments

Virtual currency may be accepted at 260,000 shops by this summer

A sushi restaurant in Tokyo with a bitcoin ATM installed.

TOKYO -- Two Japanese retailing groups soon will accept bitcoin payments, a move that is likely to promote wider use of the virtual currency among domestic consumers.

Electronics chain Bic Camera is teaming up with Tokyo-based bitFlyer, which runs the largest Japanese bitcoin exchange. This Friday, they will begin a trial run of bitFlyer's bitcoin payment system at Bic Camera's flagship shop in Tokyo's Yurakucho district and at Bicqlo Bic Camera, the hybrid outlet with Uniqlo located in Shinjuku.

Customers are allowed to pay up to 100,000 yen ($904) using the cryptocurrency, and they will also get reward points at the same rate as for cash payments. Bic Camera may introduce the payment system at other locations based on usage trends at the two Tokyo stores.

Recruit Lifestyle, the retail support arm of human resources conglomerate Recruit Holdings, is partnering with another Tokyo bitcoin exchange operator, Coincheck. The virtual currency will become a payment option at shops that have adopted AirRegi, the point-of-sale app developed by Recruit Lifestyle, by this summer.

By using tablets or other devices provided by the store and one's own smartphone, the customer can deduct the amount on the bill from the designated bitcoin account. Coincheck will convert the bitcoins into yen and transfer the funds to the store.

AirRegi is used at 260,000 eateries and other retail locations nationwide. Businesses can choose to install the bitcoin payment system alone. The app is also compatible with Alipay, the payment platform developed by China's e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding that is used by many Chinese tourists visiting Japan. The addition of bitcoin will further diversify settlement options.

Currently, there are only about 4,500 stores in Japan that accept bitcoin as payment. Besides cash payments, Suica, Rakuten's Edy and other electronic payment methods have taken the lead instead. The addition of AirRegi shops and Bic Camera outlets will multiply the number of bitcoin-compatible stores to around 260,000, a scale nearing the 380,000 outlets that accept Suica and the 470,000 locations where Edy can be used.

More than 20 million people worldwide use bitcoin, and the monthly trading volume has grown to 12 trillion yen. But more than 80% of those users are in North America and Europe. Bitcoin has chiefly been traded for investment purposes because its value fluctuates, but it is also increasingly used by overseas travelers since one can make payments without exchanging currencies.

In addition to improving convenience for foreigners visiting Japan, the increase of bitcoin-friendly outlets here could expand the number of Japanese consumers with bitcoin accounts.

Tax relief and stepped-up regulations to ensure security probably will give the domestic virtual currency market a lift. Japan began classifying virtual currency as a payment method last Saturday, and cryptocurrency exchanges are now required to register with the government. Starting in July, purchases of virtual currency will be exempt from the consumption tax.


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