Japan and Its Kentucky Fried Christmas
As Nicole will talk about in her next article, countries across the globe have their own winter traditions and holidays. Some traditions date back hundreds of years, while others have a more modern flair to them. One of these more recent traditions comes from Japan, a country already known for its eccentricity and serene landscapes. Christmas in Japan means coming together with your family and indulging in some Kentucky Fried Chicken. As the restaurant began gaining popularity, the first KFC in Japan began marketing a holiday meal to appeal to its foreign visitors, and it soon became a staple of the growing franchise. Yes, fried chicken is a soul food everyone loves, but this tradition is unique to Japan, and the story behind it is pretty interesting.
Japan’s So-So Relationship with Christmas
As Christmas is a Christian holiday, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Christmas isn’t that popular in Japan–whose population is roughly only one percent Christian. So, even though they celebrate Christmas, it doesn’t carry the same weight there as it does in America and other predominantly Christian countries. So, it’s safe to say the Japanese don’t spend months checking their Advent calendars and spending hundreds of dollars on decorations and presents for their families. That’s not to say they don’t enjoy the holiday, but it’s not the ordeal we make it in the states.
Because Christmas (and other Western holidays) isn’t a huge deal in Japan, it can make western travelers a little homesick during this time of the year. It can be lonely when all you want to do is enjoy a nice dinner with your family to celebrate the holidays and welcome the new year. That was when Takeshi Okawara decided it was time to bring some of the Western festivities to Japan.
The Birth of a Tradition
The first KFC in Japan opened its doors in 1970 and Takeshi Okawara was its first manager. One day, he heard foreigners talking about how much they miss eating turkey for the holiday dinners. That night, he began brainstorming the “party barrel” which he hoped could be promoted as a substitute for their traditional holiday meal. I mean, fried turkey is pretty big these days, so he might have been on to something. The original meal deal featured chicken and a bottle of wine for the steep price of 10 dollars USD.
In 1974, KFC in Japan was rapidly growing in popularity and they decided to push for making the holiday meal box an official deal. Today, with 15,000 stores in the small country, people order their 40 dollar chicken, cake and champagne meal weeks in advance so they don’t have to deal with long lines as the Big Day approaches. It’s the busiest time of the year for the franchise and everyone from front-line workers to executives come together to make each year a financial success.
How it’s Celebrated Today
Christmas in Japan is a time to spread happiness, with Christmas Eve treated as a kind of “Valentine’s Day” for couples. Since starting the KFC tradition in the 1970s, it’s become the busiest time of year for KFC and other restaurants–to the point you have to order the holiday special weeks in advance. 3.6 million people consume chicken in Japan, making it the biggest Christmas tradition in the country. For many in Japan, when they think of Christmas, they think Kentucky Fried Chicken. I think I know where I want to spend Christmas next year!
What are some of your Christmas traditions? As an American-German, my family has always hidden a pickle ornament in the tree for one of the kids to find an extra present.