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Japan to debut self-serve pumps

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Pulling into a Japanese gas station is like driving back in time.

A half-dozen smiling attendants in crisp white uniforms shout "Welcome!" as they rush up to pump your gas. When you're ready to hit the road again, they halt traffic for you, doffing their caps and bowing deeply.After decades of claiming it was simply too dangerous for the average Japanese consumer to pump his or her own gas, however, the government has given the go-ahead for self-service stations.

With pump-your-own making its Japanese debut on Wednesday, industry watchers see a potential bonanza for a whole scad of gas station-centered spinoffs, such as highway-side McDonald's outlets and pit-stop style dry cleaners.

For the legions of Japanese consumers who have grown jaded to the myriad regulations that have long ruled this country's economy, the prospect of a choice at the pump is a welcome - but somewhat daunting - concept.

Japan's restrictions at the gas pump highlight a glaring contradiction in this country's economy - while its auto and electronics makers can compete with the best, domestic industries are so used to being coddled that they have grown grossly inefficient.

But the realities of an eight-year economic slump have convinced policy-makers these industries are too much of a burden, and that the time is ripe to cut red tape to spur creativity and competition in the marketplace.