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One of the world’s largest experiments in the use of electronic money was launched in Tokyo’s Shibuya district Thursday, with major credit card companies and banks preparing to distribute 133,000 electronic money cards by the end of October 1999.

Consumers can use e-money cards at about 800 shops, movie theaters, hotels and restaurants within a 1-km radius of JR Shibuya Station, the project organizer said.

The major difference between an e-money card and an ordinary credit card is speed — an e-money card needs no signature for purchases, and there is no complicated application process required to issue a card.

Users can deposit money into their e-money accounts through terminals on the street, and the cards are now available from credit card companies.

The project is organized by 46 companies led by seven major credit firms and nine banks, including VISA International and Sumitomo Bank. Many shop owners in the district, however, are taking a wait-and-see attitude, saying it is unclear how widespread the system will become. “The key is how many shops will participate and how easy it is to obtain an e-money card,” said Ryoji Muto, manager at Washin, an optical shop.

Muto said use of electronic money will benefit the store because it will greatly shorten transaction time. It now takes about 40 to 50 seconds to process a credit card payment, while e-money cards takes only about 10 seconds.

Similar e-money experiments have been conducted in Kobe and Omiya in Saitama Prefecture, but the scale was limited, and the projects were led by the government, not the private sector.

Shibuya was chosen because it is a downtown gathering spot for fashion-sensitive young people and is also one of the biggest shopping districts in Tokyo, the project organizer said.

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