The curious case of the Kakamigahara Lawson has caused the company to take a second look at how they operate.

A store can’t run without staff, nor can it run without anything to sell. These two rules of retail are as old as the practice itself. But what if a store refused to follow them – a store that against all common sense refused to close even though no one was managing it at all and its shelves were virtually empty?

Such a store existed…in the Gifu Zone.


Submitted for your approval: one woman and her companion driving through the quaint city of Kakamigahara in Gifu Prefecture when they had a sudden need for cigarettes. Spotting the familiar and reliable sign of the nationwide convenience store chain Lawson, they pull in.

▼ This street view is from 2015, long before this story took place.

However, upon walking inside, they were shocked to find that the shelves were all nearly empty aside from some scattered beverages, gum, and a surprising amount of bathroom supplies. The store’s bathroom itself was blocked off by an empty rack with a handwritten note attached which read, “Out of Order: Men’s and Women’s rooms are unavailable.”

The customers called out for the assistance of a clerk several times, but no one came out or even answered the call. There weren’t any muffled sounds of people working in the back either. The store was completely empty, but the doors were unlocked and the lights were on 24 hours a day.

According to the Lawson website at the time of the encounter, this store was listed as a part of its over-10,000-strong network of convenience stores inside Japan. On the other hand, reports of confused would-be customers encountering this ghost Lawson went back as far as early December of last year on Twitter.

▼ “Whenever I go to the Lawson in Unuma Higashimachi, Kakamigahara there is a shortage of goods. It seems like it’s closing but there’s no sign that it’s closed. And when you go into the shop no one welcomes you, actually no one is there. It’s strange.” (Dated 1 December, 2017)

It was a peculiar phenomenon, and one that J-Cast News managed to get to the bottom of. According to their investigation, like most major chains, Lawson often licenses out its branches as franchises to be run by independent owners. Such was the case with the Unuma Higashimachi Lawson in Kakamigahara.

As a part of the franchise contract, the franchisee must notify Lawson headquarters six months prior to closing a store if they wish to do so. This Lawson applied to close down in September of 2017, which meant that the actual closure would occur in March of 2018.

That’s all well and in accordance with the agreement, and actually in certain situations if both the franchisee and headquarters agree, the closure can also happen early. However, the Unuma Higashi Lawson owner said that he wished to continue operating until the end.

But late in 2017, at around the same time as the ghost Lawson sightings began, HQ noticed that it stopped ordering any new stock. This brings us to another key part of the franchise agreement.

In order to keep their stores from suffering a catastrophic failure which could hurt the overall image of the brand, Lawson provides a saitei hoshou (minimum guarantee) allowance regardless of the store’s sales to ensure that employee wages are covered and shelves stay stocked…two things that the Unuma Higashimachi Lawson stopped doing.

This meant that the saitei hoshou would flow directly into the pocket of the owner as long as he kept the Lawson barely alive for the remainder of the agreement. It was a cunning plan, and he might even have gotten away with it had it not been for those meddling Twitter users and their dog.

▼ “It already closed…damn.”

The franchisee and Lawson have since negotiated the swift closure of the undead Lawson and the company issued an apology to the residents of Kakamigahara for the inconvenience that the incident caused. They also said that they would review their franchise agreements to prevent such a bizarre incident from happening again.

And so, the twisted tale of a convenience store trapped in a limbo between life and death comes to a close, but should you ever find yourself in a staff-less convenience store or shopping mall selling nothing but onions, you just may have ended up in…the Gifu Zone.

Source: J-Cast News
Top image: Wikipedia/Хомелка, Wikipedia/Lawrencedwolf (Edited by SoraNews24)
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