Photo/IllutrationThis Lawson convenience store in the Dogo Onsen hot spring resort in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, leaves the L on its sign unlit so as not to disturb swallows that built a nest beside the letter. Photo taken on May 28. (Natsumi Adachi)

  • Photo/Illustraion

MATSUYAMA, Ehime Prefecture--A nature-loving Lawson owner here couldn't bear to disturb a bird's nest to replace the dead bulb behind the L in the convenience store's sign.

Fans of "awson," as the outlet in this popular hot spring resort area is now commonly known, have heaped praise on Shusaku Yoshimoto for leaving the L alone.

A pair of swallows are raising chicks in the nest in a snug space beside the letter.

The birds built the nest at the shop in the Dogo shopping district in May, and have been busy bringing in food for five chicks that hatched there.

The store, Lawson Dogo Haikaradoriten, is about 80 meters west of the Dogo Onsen Main Building, one of Japan's first public baths. It was awarded the government’s important culture designation in 1994.

Positive comments poured in on Twitter after a customer to the store posted a story about the swallows and the shop’s special arrangement with them.

“His small kindness warmed my heart,” said one post. “They should call it Swallawson instead of Lawson,” said another. Still, another said, “That Lawson is the swallow’s Hot Station,” referencing the nearby hot springs where many people come to unwind.

Yoshimoto spotted the nest in May last year, when workers came to fix the sign after all the bulbs burned out.

The repairmen said they couldn't do the job unless they ripped out the nest, so Yoshimoto postponed it until the chicks were ready to take off.

The birds flew out the very next month.

But then Yoshimoto thought, what if they come back?

So he decided to let the light for the L remain dark.

The pair returned this spring.

“I was so happy,” he said. “They are so adorable.”

Other swallows have built nests here and there in the shopping district. The well-being of the birds often comes up in conversations of shop owners, who ask one another how their local swallows are faring.

Many of Yoshimoto's customers are also curious about the feathered visitors and their offspring.

“They're just too cute,” said Aiko Konari, a 72-year-old homemaker from Matsuyama while snapping photos of the swallows with her smartphone.

Overseas tourists to the renowned hot spring also expressed their appreciation for Yoshimoto’s gesture after their guides explained in English why the L part was not illuminated.

“It's said swallows will bring good luck, and our customers are looking forward to seeing them,” Yoshimoto said. “I hope the chicks safely fly out of the nest.”

He added that he will wait once again for the birds’ return next year, and that at this point he has no plans to replace the dead L light with a new one.