Japan’s 1st Bitcoin ATM a New Twist on Mobile Banking
Forty-nine-year-old entrepreneur Motonori Kan’s ideal summer plans include driving a camper around Japan with a unique passenger in the back: a bitcoin ATM.
Driving the cash-filled machine around pied-piper-style in an RV to various locations is one of the ways that Mr. Kan and his older brother Yoshinori imagine they could use Japan’s very first bitcoin ATM.
First, however, they’ve got to buy the camper and figure out how to use the machine.
In an interview before the ATM reached Japan, Mr. Kan acknowledged that they had never operated one of the units.
“We have never touched the unit, so we do not know all the details. Our working knowledge is only via literature from Robocoin and YouTube videos. When the unit arrives, we will study it thoroughly, and quickly!” Mr. Kan said.
The brothers, who run a trading company in Mie prefecture, imported the machine this month. The roughly $30,000 purchase from Las Vegas-based firm Robocoin is the latest step in a long journey by the two brothers to understand the virtual currency.
Motivated to learn the reason why volatility in financial markets had such an negative impact on his import business, Mr. Kan started studying economics in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. He became particularly interested in the Austrian school of economics, whose proponents reject governments intervening in economic affairs.
As the Austrian economists he admired started to accept the currency, he re-evaluated his view that bitcoin sounded like too much of a scam to be interested.
Austrian economists and libertarians lacked one thing to realizing their beliefs, “and that was sound money,” Mr. Kan said. “But all of a sudden, bitcoin burst onto the scene.”
For Austrian economists and libertarians, bitcoin, like gold, is a means of payment that gets rid of debt, Mr. Kan said. That’s opposed to cash, which is currently not backed by any assets, Mr. Kan said, adding that paying someone in cash is simply transferring debt from one person to another.
The process of bringing the Robocoin unit over was difficult, he said.
Ordinary ATM machines operated by banks are registered with Japan’s Financial Services Agency, but the government said that because bitcoin isn’t a currency the FSA isn’t in charge of the virtual currency and related services, including exchange places. After consulting with his lawyer, he obtained a license as a used-goods dealer and imported the ATM as a vending machine.
After the collapse of Tokyo-based bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest, Mr. Kan said he had to be more careful, as he thought the public image of the currency was becoming somewhat negative.
But Mr. Kan believes the crypto-currency move is just too big to ignore.
“As a trading company, we are also always searching interesting items to import to Japan,” he said, and dealing in bitcoin is “to be a part of one of the biggest inventions in history.”
Mr. Kan plans to make his company, based in Suzuka, a city about 200 miles west of Tokyo, the distributor of Robocoin ATMs in Japan.
“Where we will be placing our Robocoin is completely up to who we can find as a partner,” said Mr. Kan, who has already ordered two additional Robocoin ATMs.
According to the Las Vegas start-up’s chief executive officer Jordan Kelley, Mr. Kan’s will be the 14th Robocoin ATM shipped. The machines are already running in Canada as well as the U.S., and Mr. Kelley said the company has exported their machines to Israel, Ireland, Singapore, the Czech Republic, Australia, the United Kingdom and Italy.