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Business: The Week in Japan - 2001-08-10

Price competition is heating up in the Internet broadband market, and cashless vending machines will soon appear in Tokyo streets. Japanese consumers are demanding faster Internet access, and numerous companies are not only offering it, but also dropping prices in order to win customers.

KDDI, Japan's Number Two telecommunications firm, says it will lower its monthly fee for high speed Web service to about $30 next month. That is about half of what some of its rivals charge. Other companies, such as NEC, Matsushita and Mitsubishi, say they also will reduce rates.

Motoharu Sone is a media analyst at Tsubasa Research Institute in Tokyo. He says the lower prices will potentially attract more customers. He says that when Internet service charges were more expensive, only heavy users signed up. But cheaper fees will soon allow many people to subscribe.

Japanese banks have embarked on massive cost-cutting measures ahead of the government's planned reforms in the troubled sector. The nation's second biggest bank, Sumitomo Mitsui, says it plans to clean up more than $3 billion in bad loans for this fiscal year. To reduce overhead, it says it will let go of 600 workers, in addition to more than 4,000 cuts announced recently. The mega-bank also says it will shut nearly 200 branches over the next three years.

Vending machines can be found on countless street corners in Tokyo, and, soon, people will be able to buy drinks from them, even if they have no cash. In a trial run, machines selling Coca Cola products will be linked to Japan's biggest mobile phone company, NTT DoCoMo's popular I-Mode Internet service. Users will be able to make purchases online. They will also be able to listen to music and watch video on special monitors installed in the vending machines.

Seiko, Japan's leading clockmaker, has announced it has invented a unique alarm clock. Instead of simply waking people up, the new clock helps them fall asleep. The Good Sleep clock plays six different sounds to encourage drowsiness. They include piano tunes and the sound of a human heartbeat.