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Masatoshi Ito, the Japanese billionaire who made 7-Eleven convenience stores a cultural and consumer staple in the island nation, died last week. He was 98.
According to a statement from Ito’s company, Seven & i Holdings, the honorary chairman died of old age.
“We would like to express our deepest gratitude for your kindness during his lifetime,” the company’s statement read.
Formerly called Ito-Yokado, the company opened the American retail chain’s first location in Japan in 1974. Over the following decades, 7-Eleven’s popularity in the country exploded.
In 1991, Ito-Yokado acquired a majority stake in Southland Corporation, the Dallas-based company that owned 7-Eleven, effectively taking control of the chain.
Ito resigned a year later over alleged payments by company officials to “yakuza” members, the BBC reported. However, he remained associated with the company he founded as its growth into the 7-Eleven business became massively successful.
In 2003, there were more than 10,000 7-Eleven stores throughout Japan. That number doubled in 2018.
Japanese convenience stores known as konbini are ubiquitous across the country, but 7-Elevens there may look different than what American consumers are used to.
The glittering shops offer, among other things, ready-to-eat sushi, called rice balls onigiri and a wide range of sweets and pastries. Popular TikTok videos show users shopping at 7-Elevens in Japan – often prompting comments from envious customers elsewhere in the world.
At the time of his death, Ito had a net worth of $4.35 billion, according to Forbes, making him Japan’s eighth-richest person.