Monday, December 12, 2005

I'd wish I'd done that...


TOKYO -- Toru Nashimoto, a trim 36-year-old with nary a coin in the pockets of his slick pinstripe suit, confidently strode toward the cashier at a bustling sushi bar to settle his $45 lunch tab. He whipped out a thin electronic card and placed it above a scanner that quickly blinked neon blue before emitting a computerized ka-ching.

It was the telltale sound of Japan's new electronic money. In seconds, Nashimoto had paid for his meal of sea urchin, eel and raw fish and was hustling back to work. No change from the cash register, no waiting for confirmation, no pin code to enter. "Who needs to carry real money?" said the commercial real estate manager. "I often don't even carry a wallet with me anymore."

Nashimoto is part of the latest trend in Japan, where society is rethinking commerce by doing away with the increasingly arcane concept of cash.

Technology analysts say the use of electronic money amounts to a leap forward in commerce and shopping. Using cell phones that transmit infrared signals -- or, as in Nashimoto's case, a smart card that doubles as a set of electronic keys and lets him earn airline miles with each use -- Japanese consumers are whisking through checkout lines, buying everything from sushi to furniture without ever yanking out their wallets.

But if you try to do anything remotely similar in the US, you'll find a maze of different standards all over the place, and user fees that would make it prohibitive.

Still, if you consider it, it's kind of crude that the cash you have in your wallet could have been handled by millions of people.

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