Seven Eleven versus Mitoshi Matsumoto

There’s been an epic struggle down in Osaka concerning convenience store chain Seven-Eleven and a franchisee, Mitoshi Matsumoto. It’s a delicious tale of corporate greed, concerned citizens, and flying kicks to stationary vehicles. It also sheds a small bit of light on the oftentimes poor working conditions that many Japanese workers face.

The 711 Rule That Started it All

This isn’t the usual drama about deceptive packaging, oh no! This rivalry threatens to reshape the very foundations of convenience stores all across Japan. But how did this all begin?

Let’s travel back to 2012, when Matsumoto Mitoshi opened his own Seven Eleven franchise just down the street from Osaka University of Commerce. He was ready to serve his community and make a living for himself with the help of megacorporation Seven Eleven.

The man, the myth, the legend: Matsumoto Hitoshi! Photo taken after Seven Eleven stopped shipping goods to his store (Photo courtesy of Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times)

Zoom to 2018, when Mr. Matsumoto’s wife and co-manager passed away. This led to Mitoshi having issues keeping his store staffed for the company-mandated 24 hours a day. Seeing no other options, in 2019, he shortened from 24 to 19 hours of operation a day for his store. This did not sit well with the corporate heads, who demanded he re-open to 24 hours a day, lest he be found in violation of his contract.

Frustrated with the situation, Mitoshi kept his shop open with the shortened hours. He wanted owners to be on a more equal footing with corporate, who he thought was being too demanding and lacking in understanding of the day-to-day realities of owning a 711. Then things started to escalate.

Episode II: 711 Strikes Back!

The first round of repercussions started as soon as Mitoshi didn’t listen to the contract demands: 711 cut off shipments and supplies to his store. But this didn’t stop Mitoshi! He kept the shop running, placing signs on his shop’s doors and windows explaining the situation. Then came a formal scuffle in the form of a lawsuit.

Mitoshi sued Seven Eleven, citing his unfair contract termination and the stopping of shipments as a violation of Japan’s anti-monopoly legislation. Seven Eleven fired back, and they sought monetary restitution for Mitoshi, essentially in their words, holding one of their branches hostage.

Things got even more heated: Stories and images started to come out about Mitoshi’s… strange behavior. In one photo, it appears that Mitoshi may have jump-kicked a car leaving the store’s premises. Stories about his erratic behavior came out in a steady trickle.

Images courtesy of SoraNews24

Then the ultimate blow: Seven Elven built a second Seven Eleven in the parking lot of Mitoshi’s Seven Eleven, effectively blocking him off from any customers. Their justification? They gave him the money for the land and license for their brand, therefore, they are simply reclaiming what was theirs. To be frank, it looked like a bonified shit show.

Conclusion: The Courts Give Their Ruling

The saga dragged on throughout the pandemic but reached a conclusion this year. Mitoshi lost the case, and now he owes Seven Eleven a hefty chunk of change. He says he will challenge the ruling and continue the good fight.

Epilogue: How Does This Affect Working Conditions in Japan?

Labor issues are nothing new in Japan, especially in the convenience store sector. Convenience stores often face labor shortages, as they can’t hire enough people to work all of their operating hours, much like the problem Matsumoto Mitoshi faced back in 2018.

However, the pandemic threw a wrench into the reckoning of the 24-hour model. Students unable to attend classes, seniors facing economic uncertainty, and those who were suffering unemployment or underemployment due to closures buoyed the labor market, giving convenience stores the pick of the litter. There are still big pushes by labor unions to reform the working models and conditions of convenience store workers, but the pandemic has certainly slowed things down.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Additionally, convenience store workers suffer from harassment from customers. Japan has its own terms for abuse suffered at the hands of customers: Regi Hara, harassment suffered at the cash register, and Kasu Hara, general harassment suffered at the hands of unruly customers.

While most chatter about labor was curbed by the pressing health issues of the pandemic, Matsumoto Mitoshi’s case is just one symptom of greater issues in the Japanese working economy: Workers are expected to work punishing hours, deal with abuse from managers and customers, and do it all with a smile. It’s worse for immigrant workers: Without the job and visa support, they could be deported from the country, jeopardizing the lives they’ve been building for themselves in Japan.

I hope things improve for Japanese workers. Having lived here for years, and seeing some of the negative effects of the work culture, I can safely say that something needs to change. I just hope that change comes sooner rather than later.

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