Masatoshi Ito, the honorary chairman of Seven & i Holdings Co. and founder of the Ito-Yokado supermarket and the Seven-Eleven Japan convenience store chain, has died, the retail group said Monday. He was 98.

Ito, widely credited for starting Japan's first full-blown convenience store chain operations, died Friday morning, and his funeral was held privately by his family, according to the company.

Supplied photo shows Masatoshi Ito. (Kyodo)

Ito started to work at his family-run clothing store Yokado in Tokyo after a stint at what is now Mitsubishi Materials Corp. and serving in the military during World War II.

He set up the predecessor company to the current Ito-Yokado supermarket in 1958, expanding its stores in the Tokyo metropolitan area by introducing U.S.-style chain store management.

Ito opened Japan's first Seven-Eleven store in the capital's Toyosu district in 1974 after reaching a licensing agreement with the Southland Corp., the U.S.-based operator of the convenience store brand.

The Japanese chain, which grew big on serving rice balls and sandwiches 24 hours a day for increasingly busy office workers during the country's economic bubble in the 1980s, acquired financially struggling Southland, the original franchiser, in 1991.

Ito stepped down as president in 1992 after being embroiled in a scandal involving illegal payoffs to corporate extortionists. He became the honorary chairman of the Ito-Yokado group in 1996.

He assumed the role of the honorary chairman of Seven & i Holdings in 2005 after the holding company was set up through a merger of its group companies.