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NAHA, Okinawa Pref. — The sound of an electronic device is replacing the rustle of cash at many stores in Okinawa Prefecture, from fast-food restaurants to auto repair shops.

Okinawa is full of stores accepting a form of electronic money called Edy. The name is an amalgam of the euro, dollar and yen.

The sound emerges from reading devices installed in stores whenever customers settle a bill with IC cards or cell phones containing data on prepaid money.

Since it was introduced in 2001 as a cash substitute by bitWallet, Inc. of Tokyo, about 48 million Edy cards have been issued. Okinawa, dubbed an “electronic money-developed prefecture,” is ahead of the pack in terms of the number of participating stores per capita and the amount of transactions.

According to bitWallet, which was established with investments by leading household electrical goods, communications, financial and automobile companies, among others, Okinawa led all other prefectures in the number of monthly Edy transactions.

All Nippon Airways Co. paved the way in Okinawa by establishing cooperation between bitWallet and ANA’s mileage club. Participants in the airline’s frequent-flier program can earn points when they shop with Edy.

The system “captured the interest of Okinawans who cannot get out of the prefecture unless they fly on airplanes,” said Masao Kogure, bitWallet’s director of the Okinawa business office.

The Chuo Tourist travel company in Naha has installed prepaid deposit machines in its 11 branches in Okinawa, including outlying islands. He said there are some people who often come to make deposits on deluxe tours.

“We shoulder the expenses (for making the deposits) but get a lot of benefits in attracting customers,” a company official said.

The operators of Yoshinoya Holdings Co. and Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan Ltd. accept Edy at all of their restaurants in Okinawa. It is the only prefecture in the country where their outlets accept the electronic money.

Kunifumi Nakamine, president of Yoshinoya in Okinawa, said, “It’s not a question of attracting customers but rather we’d be in a disadvantageous position if we didn’t (accept Edy.)”

Edy is even accepted by Okinawa hospitals and auto repair shops.

In cities around the country where Edy is in wide use, men account for more than half of the transactions except in Okinawa Prefecture, where a growing number of beauty parlors and nail salons are accepting it.

Housewife Misuzu Sunagawa, 38, said she uses Edy for her shopping, adding that her preschool-age daughter talks about the electronic money while playing house.

Hisashi Kamio, a journalist who covers the communications and transportation industries, said Suica has been successful as electronic money in the Tokyo metropolitan region and Edy in Okinawa.

Suica can be issued as a credit card by East Japan Railway Co. and is also used as electronic money for train fare.

Kamio said Okinawans’ inclination toward cash transactions and their aversion to credit cards are contributing to Edy’s popularity.

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