Japan’s Fried Chicken Christmas Tradition

Many years ago, I taught you all how to bring a little Japanese touch to your Christmas celebration by baking your very own traditional Japanese Christmas Cake. This year, I figure it’s finally time to cover the rest of the meal. You can’t just eat cake, even if it is Christmas. Your tummy is gonna hurt!

So get ready for a delicious, juicy feast!

First, you need to prep. So go over to your closest google connected device and search for the number of the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now dial that number and order a barrel(?) of chicken. Yummy! Time for the family to enjoy some authentic eastern cuisine for the holidays!

have any of you played this?

I’m just joking! But not really. For those of you that didn’t know, order KFC really is a Christmas tradition in Japan. Random Irina Fact, I have never eaten KFC. Does it really come in barrels? That’s both impressive and disturbing.

At this point, some of you may be wondering just how an American Fast Food chain manages to become a traditional Christmas staple all the way in Japan. And that’s what we’re here for.

Like most Holiday traditions, the short answer is… advertisement. It’s crazy just how many traditional rituals (like wedding rings) are simply a result of a, particularly successful advertising campaign. But n the case of Japan’s Christmas KFC dinners, there’s a bit of intrigue.

It seems the actual origins are still disputed to this day and no one knows the real deal! oooOOOoo. This is starting to sound like a nightmare before Christmas scenario!

don’t worry, it’s going to be ok!

Let’s start with what everybody does agree on. KFC first landed in Japan in 1970 with a single test store at the World Expo in Osaka. The Fast Food chain was hoping to get local entrepreneurs interested in investing and opening their own franchised restaurants. And that’s exactly what happened when a man called Takeshi Okawara became fascinated by the concept.

Unfortunately, it was a gigantic flop. OK, I may be exaggerating that a bit. The first KFC, run by Okawara-san in Nagoya almost closed its doors the same year it opened. KFC as a company had very little idea how to run a business in Japan and both the branding and product being so new, the local citizens just couldn’t figure out what they were. Certainly, it wasn’t a name you thought of when you got hungry.

Desperate for a break, Okawara-san jumped on the chance to play, pretend Santa Claus and hand out chicken at a local catholic school when the administration asked. Seeing this as a last shot at making it work, he apparently went all out, putting on a big show, dancing around and entertaining the kids for hours. When word got out, he was quickly offered a job at another school, as much for the entertainment as for the chicken itself.

This worked like gangbusters. Not only did it allow Okawara-san to keep his business afloat but it gave him the chance to expand. It also gave him a great idea. In the following years, he started promoting KFC s a substitute for traditional Christmas turkey. Christmas had been introduced to Japan for decades and the people did seem to enjoy the traditions of decoration and gift-giving. However, there were no associated foods. Apparently, American TV shows and movies had given the Japanese people the impression that large Turkey diners were what’s expected but as Turkeys are hardly commonplace in Japan few people actually tried to adopt that.

Okawara-san basically made up the idea to substitute roasted turkey with fried chicken as he had already associated his business with the holiday in past years. He decided to package the chicken and side dishes together and called them special Christmas “Party Barrels”. The word quickly got out and Okawara-san had a second Christmas marketing hit on his hands.

In fact, it became so popular that the NHK (Japan’s national broadcast company) interviewed Okawara and asked him if Christmas KFC was really a tradition in other countries. Despite some pangs of guilt, Okawara-san said yes!

By 1973, KFC had started to figure out how to do business in Japan and they had grown to 75 locations all over the country. The Christmas promotion was a staple that ran in each of them. By 1986, there were more than 600 stores and Okawara-san was CEO of KFC Japan! Awww- I like a happy ending!

But you see, KFC as a company has denied this version. Sticking to the idea that KFC is an alternative to traditional turkey dinners and not admitting to any lie along the way!

Other theories have also been thrown out there. A popular one being that to the Japanese the character of Colonel Sanders, with his big smile and white beard, was just strikingly similar to the character of Santa Claus and the connection just came naturally. Others have cited the commodity of fast food with the consumerist nature of Christmas being an ideological fit for Japanese customers.

I should say that there is no actual proof that the traditional really started from a lie and people have looked into it. Then again, I have also never heard of anyone outside of Japan having a KFC Christmas tradition but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In any case, the traditional is deeply ingrained now so if you want a traditional Japanese Christmas Feast, you know what to do!

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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29 Responses

  1. Fascinating fact. Merry Christmas to you Irina!

  2. This is great! I loved reading about the history of KFC in Japan because I’ve always been intrigued with their interest in it. While I usually would never touch KFC here in the states, but I’d totally do it in Japan for the experience! (& that KFC dating game is SO WACKY I love it!!!)

    • Irina says:

      You know, I bet it tasted differently! They aren’t shipping frozen chicken from the US after all so the recipe probably got influenced by local tastes and ingredients.

  3. Krystallina says:

    I’m having KFC for Christmas. Although it’s technically leftovers from yesterday and today, lol. So KFC tenders (yes, in a bucket) and also fish from Long John Silver’s, as my local KFC is a 2-in-1 and just buy big meals to last a few days. I usually have chicken for holidays anyway since I don’t really like turkey and definitely don’t like ham.

  4. foovay says:

    We keep saying we’re going to do this, but the freaking KFC here is $25 for the chicken, and $25 for the delivery. Not kidding. We don’t have a car, and it would be at least an hour, hour and a half on the cold public bus to the nearest KFC. So we always end up saying NAH. This year my hubby got the perfect solution. He roasted a delicious whole chicken for us at home. Much better for us than the fried, greasy, salty KFC. I find it all sort of hilarious – Xmas, as much as some people try to stick religion to it, is all about commercialism, so why not?

  5. Maica says:

    I watch a lot of Kdramas- heheheh! And according to Kdramaland, KFC or fried chicken is a thing there as well!
    Also, when I was studying abroad in Italy, there was only one fried chicken place in the historical district, and there were often long lines of Asians (when I say Asian, I am also including Pacific Islanders) there.

    This is really interesting, Irina. I have often wondered about fried chicken… since it seemed more popular in New Zealand than in the states. In New Zealand (again, I don’t know if it is a Kiwi thing or Pacific Islander), it was always a huge gift to bring KFC or fish and chips over when visiting friends or family. We wouldn’t ever do that with any other fast food chain. Somehow, KFC seemed cozier and more like a family meal.

    By the way Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
    Ah, and I loved your post about Boxing Day as well! In New Zealand, we used it as a day to box up things, give donations and get rid of what we didn’t need (like a Spring Cleaning day)
    If there was boxing, we would watch that too. Hahah!

  6. In New Zealand it’s a tradition to go to the beach with a bucket of KFC on Christmas Day. There’s nothing like surfing and fried chicken.

  7. Mari says:

    This is great. I can’t eat KFC, the chicken is too greasy and always gives me stomach cramps. But I did get some Publix fried chicken for Christmas Eve dinner, which is even better. 🐔

  8. I loved hearing about this tradition. When we first heard about it a few years back, we actually made it a Christmas Eve tradition in our house. This may be the first year in ages we break from that.

  9. alsmangablog says:

    LOL, I think it’s hilarious that KFC’s marketing efforts have been so successful and that they’ve managed to become part of a Japan’s Christmas traditions.

    I’ve always referred to those KFC buckets as “Tubs of chicken”. It’s been a long time since I’ve had KFC, as I prefer Mary Brown’s when I’m in the mood for some deep-fried chickeny goodness. 😉

    • Irina says:

      I’m imagining jumping into a bathtub of fried chicken. It’s not as disturbing as I would have thought!

  10. Scott says:

    This is a lot of fun to think about even though the power of advertisement is no joke. Also it’s true that KFC food can come in chicken bucket like things like popcorn. I only wish the local one wasn’t completely awful in a lot of ways besides food, because I would get it way more often then never.

    • Irina says:

      Bucket of Chicken! I’m sure it’s delicious. White chicken meat and fish are the two types of meat I miss

      • Scott says:

        Oh, it is tasty when done right. I’m just mentioning that the local store has an awful and scummy manager for years now and it’s ruined a lot of things.

  11. Truth reall is stranger than fiction. I never imagined that the Japan KFC connection would be so wacky.

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