This article originally appeared on VICE US.
If you have been to Japan, are considering a trip to Japan, or have recently read a listicle about Japan, then you might have gotten a sense of the importance of 7-Eleven convenience stores, for residents and visitors alike. The stores are open 24 hours a day; they stock everything from freshly made foods to packages of socks and underwear; and they might be the only place in the world where you can pick up a baseball ticket, pay your utility bills, get a SIM card, and buy a limited edition bottle of single-malt whisky all in one go.
The one exception to that rule might be Mitoshi Matsumoto's 7-Eleven in Higashi-Osaka. In his store, the shelves are mostly empty, and there are handwritten '30% Off' signs taped on what's left. Fresh food is no longer being delivered, the ATM has stopped working, and the employees have to make sales on a portable cash register because their computer systems have all been disconnected. At the end of December, Seven & I Holdings Co. killed Matsumoto's franchise, and it's mostly because he wanted to close his store for a couple of hours a day.
According to the New York Times, Matsumoto bought the store in 2012, and he and his wife both worked lengthy shifts behind the counter. After his wife died in 2018, Matsumoto was regularly putting in 14-hour days, and he was having such a hard time finding other employees that he asked his son to leave college to work in the convenience store. In February, Matsumoto announced that he wanted to slice a few hours out of his store's schedule, closing from 1 a.m. until 6 a.m. every morning.
7-Eleven took this poorly.
It told Matsumoto that closing for any period of time violated his contract—each store is required to be open 24/7—and his decision could result in a $155,000 fine and the loss of his store. Matsumoto closed anyway, and he told the media about 7-Eleven's threats. But when he said that he would be shutting down for AN ENTIRE DAY so that he and his two full-time workers could have New Year's Day off, well, that was a step too far.
On December 31, Seven & I Holdings Co terminated his contract. A spokesperson for the company said that the official reason it axed the franchise was because Matsumoto had complained about 7-Eleven's policies on social media, and because of repeated complaints from the store's customers. (Ironically, 7-Eleven promised that workers at its 50 non-franchise stores could have New Year's Day off, no problem.)
Matsumoto has challenged the case in court and, although his store is cut off from all of 7-Eleven's food suppliers and computer systems, he is determined to stay open as long as he can. "I still think this is 7-Eleven,” he told SoraNews24. "Basically, we’re just selling off the stock until the dispute is settled. After that, if the court decides I’m wrong, I’ll hand over the store and walk away. If I’m right… I’m not sure what I’ll do next."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, he's uncertain not only about his own future, but about the future of Japan's 50,000-plus convenience stores, the 7-Elevens, Family Marts, and Lawsons that seem to appear every two or three feet. "The system is broken because the companies are taking too much from the people running the stores, and there isn’t enough left to run them properly," he said.
"This is the way things are getting nowadays: people in the highest levels are just interested in getting as much for themselves as they can. You see it everywhere, like Donald Trump in America, these people at the top are only looking out for themselves. It’s the same in Japan and elsewhere too, but it can’t continue like this."
Until the court makes a decision or until Masumoto runs out of merch, he'll keep working. But, at least for now, his store is only open from 9 to 5.