Photo/Illutration From right: Keiji Kamikanda, Yuji Mitachi, Yosuke Mifune and Hidenobu Nakamura walk across the Fudai shopping street, aka the “Abii Road shopping street,” in Fudai, Iwate Prefecture, on April 11. (Akina Nishi)

FUDAI, Iwate Prefecture--About 56,000 convenience stores were operating across the nation as of December 2022. But Fudai village had none.

Japan as of March 2022 was home to about 250,000 outlets of franchise operators in all sectors, according to the Japan Franchise Association. But, again, not one was located in Fudai, a coastal village in the Tohoku region facing the Pacific Ocean.

However, the village with a population of about 2,400 has something that many other municipalities lack: its own Fab Four.

After seeing their hometown losing its liveliness, four store operators decided to do something to energize the main shopping street located near the Fudai village office.

Lined with a supermarket featuring local goods, a pharmacy and other stores, the street runs parallel to the crystal clear Fudaigawa river.

It is also called the “Abii Road shopping street” for its resemblance to the image from the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album cover.

The shopowners simply enhanced the human warmth of the village and encouraged people from all walks of life to have fun on the street.

The four are: meat shop owner Keiji Kamikanda, 50; fuel store operator Yuji Mitachi, 46; confectionery shop proprietor Yosuke Mifune, 43; and Hidenobu Nakamura, 50, also a confectioner.

All four had left the village when they were younger, but they returned to Fudai for the same reason: to take over their family businesses from their parents.

Fudai is proud of the fact that it is home to zero franchise outlets.

Saizeriya Co., the operator of a family restaurant chain, decided to open its first eatery in Iwate Prefecture in its capital, Morioka, last year.

“Finally, Saizeriya will be coming to Iwate Prefecture!” the Konbu Brothers, the official mascot of Fudai village, tweeted in April last year.

They added: “For your information, there is not a single chain store in Fudai village.”

The village has been shrinking.

Although the Abii Road shopping street runs along National Route 45, vehicle traffic fell in the village after the Sanriku Coastal Road opened.

Mifune, who took over a confectionery shop founded in 1893, wanted to make the shopping street worth visiting to give people a purpose to come there.

He came up with a sweet made from “konbu” kelp, a local specialty.

Kamikanda developed a sauce for “yakiniku” grilled meat, also using the kelp.

They now host the Joyful Day event on the last Saturday of each month. Fourteen shops offer food items and other products at bargain prices on those days.

It has become the centerpiece event of the shopping street.

Nakamura serves as director-general to organize various projects, creating fliers and making other preparations.

“It’s good to see villagers finish their shopping at one place, but I feel happy to see them walking around the street, talking about which store they would be going to next,” Mitachi said.

The Fudai shopping street lacks many things, and restaurants there close relatively early.

But the warm-hearted community has its own charms, and residents never hesitate to ask favors from each other.

“We can’t turn Fudai into something it’s not, like Morioka,” Kamikanda said. “But we have an environment in which residents can feel happy and bring out the best in each other.”