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Japan's convenience store chains chase elixir of growth across Asia

TOKYO -- It's 50 years since Kenji Yamamoto opened the doors at what would become part of the fabric of Japan: the country's first modern-day convenience store. But 50 years from now, Japan's population is projected to shrink by close to a third, and the fate of a multibillion-dollar industry will hang on how its big players negotiate essential growth overseas.

From the first 7-Eleven opened by Yamamoto in the then-industrial Tokyo neighborhood of Toyosu, convenience stores -- known as konbini -- have been expanded into a network of some 55,000 outlets across the country, mostly open 24 hours a day and often barely 100 meters apart in urban centers.