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Masatoshi Ito, who brought 7-Eleven convenience stores to Japan, has died

Seven & I Holdings Co. founder and honorary chairman Masatoshi Ito, right, attends the company's initiation ceremony for new employees in Tokyo, Japan, on March 13, 2014.
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Seven & I Holdings Co. founder and honorary chairman Masatoshi Ito, right, attends the company's initiation ceremony for new employees in Tokyo, Japan, on March 13, 2014.

Masatoshi Ito, the billionaire Japanese businessman who made 7-Eleven convenience stores a cultural and consumer staple of the island nation, died last week. He was 98.

According to an announcement 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 firm's statement read.

Previously called Ito-Yokado, the company opened the first location of the American retail chain in Japan in 1974. Over the following decades, 7-Eleven's popularity exploded in the country.

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 one year later over alleged payments by company officials to "yakuza" members, the BBC reported. However, he stayed connected to the company he founded as its growth of the 7-Eleven business saw massive success.

By 2003, there were more than 10,000 7-Eleven stores across Japan. That number doubled by 2018.

Japanese convenience stores known as konbini are ubiquitous throughout the country, but 7-Elevens there may look different than what American consumers are used to.

The glistening stores offer, among other things, ready-to-eat sushi, rice balls called onigiri and a wide array of sweets and baked goods. Popular TikTok videos show users shopping at 7-Elevens in Japan — and often prompt 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, which made him Japan's eighth-richest person.

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