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!
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!
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!