The KFC-Christmas connection in Japan

The KFC-Christmas connection in Japan

TOKYO —

It’s a question that many Westerners have asked for decades: How did Christmas in Japan become synonymous with a fast food joint?

Foreigners may laugh at the queues that form outside branches of KFC on Dec 24, or the people reserving their buckets of chicken a month in advance, but it turns out that they’ve only got themselves to blame.

The tradition of eating KFC at Christmas dates back to the early 1970s, when an expat customer at the chain’s Aoyama store observed that, in a land bereft of Yuletide turkey, fried chicken was the next best thing. The store’s canny manager was paying attention and passed word on to the higher-ups, leading the company to launch its ludicrously successful “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) campaign in 1974.

At least, that’s what the company says on its website (www.kfc.co.jp/qa).

Or it might just be because Colonel Sanders in a Santa cap looks like Santa Claus.

Whatever the reason, chicken is big business for KFC in December. Actress Haruka Ayase, 26, who appears in TV commercials and other ad campaigns for KFC, helped the fast-food company launch its Christmas campaign in late October, by promoting reservations for the KFC Party Barrel.

Company officials say KFC records its highest sales volume each year on Christmas eve. The stores are so busy that even back office staff, including the president and other execs, head out to the frontlines to help on Christmas eve.

So have a Kentucky Fried Christmas.

Japan Today

  • 0

    Daijoboots

    Foreigners may laugh at the queues that form outside branches of KFC on Dec 24, or the people reserving their buckets of chicken a month in advance, but it turns out that they have only got themselves to blame.

    I'm sorry. I'll do better next time.

  • -3

    Tamarama

    Yeah, I can see that. It's a quaint tradition in a quaint land.......

  • -1

    Ivan Coughanoffalot

    Colonel Sanders looks like Santa Claus.

    Er...he doesn't.

    Foreigners may laugh ..., but it turns out that they’ve only got themselves to blame.

    For what? Choosing to have a proper meal on Christmas Day?

    So have a Kentucky Fried Christmas.

    Thanks, but I'll eat food instead.

  • -1

    Spidapig24

    It actually wouldnt be a silly gimmicky idea by Japanese who actually are trying to create a western event by any chance? Not that most westerners eat KFC for Xmas, and not that Japanese KFC tastes anything like KFC in a western country (wheres the potato and gravy???)

    Oh and l agree Colonel Sanders looks nothing like Santa, and why even bother considering Xmas to the Japanese is just another day what is the big deal. You want to celebrate a real Xmas? easy, no work on that day, have all your family around for the day lots of food (real food preferably on the BBQ), lots of drink, the odd argument, and presents. Now thats a real Xmas. Not a gimmicky fast food ad with a store mascot in a Santa hat.

  • -1

    Daijoboots

    You want to celebrate a real Xmas?...the odd argument

    Ahh memories.

  • 1

    smartacus

    My girlfriend's family have had KFC for Christmas eve dinner for as long as I can remember. I don't think they have ever tried turkey.

  • -1

    Laguna

    KFC = chicken-flavored donuts.

  • -1

    herefornow

    “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!”

    Yup, I'm sure looking forward to celebrating "Kurisumasu" again this year. In fact I spent the last two days putting up all my Kurisumasu decorations. But I'll pass on the KFC, thanks.

  • -2

    MaboDofuIsSpicy

    KFC to me is like an instant enema. I just cannot deal with that grease. If they made it grease-less, I might try it again.

    I agree about the potato and gravy thing. I thought there was something missing.

    I did have a pot pie there the other day and they taste good. But, why is it only half full. Bad Christmas joke perhaps. Cannot see in the package until you break the wrapper.

  • 1

    borscht

    (where's the potato and gravy???)

    Where's the cole slaw?

  • -1

    MaboDofuIsSpicy

    They have cole slaw.

    Where is Ms. Ayase? I would love to run into her again.

  • -2

    Reckless

    Well, I have eaten it from time to time, but the sodium blast and grease avalanche just causes me pimples, which I don't need.

  • 1

    pawatan

    They have cole slaw.

    They have potatoes and gravy, too - at least the one by me.

  • 0

    paulinusa

    Don't eat fried chicken but she does looks sort of cute in that Santa oufit.

  • -4

    DS

    These days there are myriad alternatives that are closer to a 'real' Christmas dinner. Supermarkets like Jusco and Apita sell roasted chicken, either in pieces or whole birds. If you live near a Brazilian supermarket they also sell cooked birds, usually for cheap (around 1000 yen). If money is no object, you can order from places like The Meat Guy too.

    No reason to eat Dead Bird in a Box in the year 2012.

  • -2

    It"S ME

    What is a traditional X-Mas meal?

    I know many different ones from fish, chicken, turkey, etc(haven't included japan here yet). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ListofChristmas_dishes

    The KFC-Connection is because someone tried to make a buck out of copying the american traditional meal. Had to be a copy as the Turkey is a native to the Americas.

    I wish I would know the location of KFC in Tokyo that sells Potato & Mash, local ones to carry Coleslaw Salad.

  • -5

    gaijinfo

    Kentucky Fried Chicken changed their name to KFC years ago, to take the "chicken" out of their name. That's because the meat comes from genetically engineered creatures that taste like chicken.

    Happy Christmas

  • -5

    cleo

    The season of Peace on Earth, Goodwill to all Men - hard luck if you happen to be a bird.

    http://www.kentuckyfriedcruelty.com/u-pilgrimspride.asp

  • -4

    MaboDofuIsSpicy

    Cleo, that video is a shocker. Those poor chickens. How sick are those workers???? And the stupid music in the back ground. Do the chickens at Japan's KFC come from Japan or other countries? I cannot fathom Japanese workers doing the same thing.

  • -4

    johninnaha

    Or it might just be because Colonel Sanders in a Santa cap looks like Santa Claus.

    No, he doesn't.

    It looks like a plastic model of some fat bloke with a goatee (not full) beard in a red suit and cap.

  • -2

    Elbuda Mexicano

    At first I thought this was so cheap, so strange, maybe now I have been in Japan too long and I look forward to KFC Christmas chicken even though I miss my Mexican tamales, menudo, pozole and a bit of tequila!

  • 2

    Jamie in Japan

    Traditional Christmas meals are different all over the world. I guess this is just Japan's version.

    I miss turkey and don't really care for fried chicken, and won't be buying anything from KFC on Christmas, but if that's what makes other people happy, then more power to them. As long as they're eating it with loved ones, then it doesn't really matter what they're eating, right? ^^

  • 0

    Weasel

    I think I'll go ahead reserve a bucket of the Colonel's original the next time I visit the drive thru. Traditions must be upheld.

  • 1

    SpanishEyez37

    I love cooking, so I will be making Christmas dinner old school. I'm Puerto Rican and we usually have pernil (roasted pork) for the holidays, but I am doing turkey this year because hubby has never had it.

    So KFC will NOT be at our dinner table thankyouverymuch.

  • -3

    y3chome

    Cleo- thanks for the link, quite shocking. I would occasionally be partial to the odd KFC now and again, but after seeing that I would more than likely give it a miss next time.

  • 2

    mackemack

    I think I'll grab some KFC on the way home tonight.

  • 5

    Moe Hirose

    i am japanese, so i've never felt strange KFC for christmas, but, yeah... it is kind of strange and odd looking it from the outside of japan.

  • 2

    Nessie

    Foreigners may laugh at the queues . . . but it turns out that they’ve only got themselves to blame

    No, we don't. We just. Don't.

    The stupid. It hurts.

  • -2

    lostrune2

    Get everything grilled at KFC (they don't want you saying "Fried" anymore).

  • -4

    smithinjapan

    If you're going to say, "they only have themselves to blame" then you're ultimately got to blame 'foreigners' for bringing fast food to Japan in the first place, not so some lone guy eating a peace of chicken around Christmas time and the manager thinking it would be a good sales gimmick. We're to blame for creating the monster that is KFC, yes. As we are for McDs, as well.

    Anyway, I get the odd craving for KFC and will once in a while indulge, but I almost always feel sick after, or at least the next day. Not sick to my stomach or anything, just gross, bloated, and with this wonder that I ever wanted to eat the stuff in the first place.

  • 1

    smithinjapan

    I meant to add that people can laugh all they want -- I know I do -- over the queues and lust for KFC for Christmas, but it's what people want and it's here to stay. I hope at some point these folk get a chance to stay overseas for a REAL Christmas celebration and dinner (by that I mean the day off, spent with family and/or friends, a big dinner, and for the religious a visit to church), so that at least they know this isn't how it is world-wide.

    That only thing that TRULY once bothered me about the whole KFC Christmas thing is that I was stuck here for work one year and felt the urge for a bit of KFC but when I arrived at the store I was told I couldn't get anything because I didn't have a reservation. Made a rather sad day even sadder (but saved my arteries some pain).

  • 2

    Noripinhead

    KFC and sushi are Da Tradition.

  • 1

    ihavegreatlegs

    Haruka is a perfect spokes person for KFC. She is very cute and lovely to look at. Maybe I will go get a chicken wing.

  • -3

    BernieK

    Nowadays, any food radiation free is the new tradition, the new normal. Also, it's KFC not kentakkii. That's Japanese English. This whole article is about Engrish. Also, I think Haruka likes me. She's staring at me. I move to the left or right and she still is staring at me. Have a Heartful Kurisumasu

  • 0

    Spidapig24

    All l can say is thankfully l will be in my home country for Xmas and will be able to celebrate a real Xmas. Not some poor gimmicky (oh this is a western style Xmas) attempt. Nothing beats sitting around with family eating roast pork, lamb, beef, real chicken, loads of veges, and real beer. MMM cant wait, not to mention the compulsory back yard cricket match after lunch, and nice warm weather. Now that is Xmas, not lining up for KFC... IMHO

    But l guess if the Japanese think thats what Xmas is about good on them.

  • 1

    MaboDofuIsSpicy

    NY CIty is the best for Christmas and Hanuka parties. But, I do not miss the cold.

  • 0

    lordmanji

    Japanese KFC is pretty good. I wish we had the recipe in the US.

  • 7

    Brainiac

    I don't know why there are so many readers mocking the Japanese for enjoying KFC on Christmas eve.

    There is no such thing as a "real Xmas." No country or culture can claim that the way they celebrate Christmas is the "right" way. For Japanese people, enjoying KFC at home with their family on Christmas Eve is every bit as enjoyable as the way any of us spend Christmas either here or in our home countries.

  • 1

    smithinjapan

    Brainiac: "There is no such thing as a "real Xmas." No country or culture can claim that the way they celebrate Christmas is the "right" way."

    And yet the man who started this whole gimmick to mimic Western culture did so upon seeing a foreign man eating KFC chicken on Christmas. You are correct in saying that there is no 'right way' to do it, but you cannot forget to take into account that it is in IMPORTED 'holiday' here (and you still have to work), where many Western ways of celebrating are imitated because that is the idea. It's not like someone 400 years ago in Japan on a December 24th night said, "Let's eat chicken on the 24th from this day fourth!" and it became tradition.

    That said, and as I said before, if they enjoy it and it makes them happy, all the power to them. I also said I wish people here could see a Christmas celebration back home (and yes, I said 'real' because I don't think the imported concept of Christmas works well here) and likewise people back home see it here, if for no other reason that grass roots exchange.

  • 0

    daisan

    No country or culture can claim that the way they celebrate Christmas is the "right" way.

    Christians may have one or two things to say about that.

    I find it amusing how some marketing fueled traditions are supposed to be 'better' than others. And let them take the decorations the next day, they have their own religious based celebration in shogatsu. Why wait till the wise men arrive.

    It is funny though, watching them lining up for some fried chicken or kurisumasu keki, but they line up for everything. I think KFC also sells roast chicken and you can buy fried chicken everywhere nowadays, even at the makku, but nothing beats a nice homemade dinner with some fruitcake and hot chocolate.

  • 0

    It"S ME

    daisan.

    With that argument you should be having fish instead of Turkey. ;) And I agree with Brainiac. But the food varies widely between all countries christian or not. Check the link I provided for European countries alone(all Christian).

  • -3

    YongYang

    It's a question we also answer real quick, it's no torturing mystery that keeps us up at night, no twisted path that terminates in cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac as intellect, experience and resources strain to uncover the 'WHY?' the answer is as innocuous as to why Beaujolais nouveau... QED.

  • 0

    unreconstructed

    Funny thing s among foreigners in Japan it s non-Americans who go for KFC bird and McD boigahs almost as enthusiastically as J-folks do. Check oat smithinjapan above

  • 1

    Johannes Weber

    Actually, there is a thing about "REAL CHRISTMAS". It is about family and finding peace from the usually hasty life. It is a time to think about your loved ones. Everything except this is not important. Still, it is nice to give and receive presents though not necessary. And churches have a very nice atmosphere these days.

    In Japan, most families don't care about the social aspects. Japanese XMAS is purely commercial and utterly meaningless. It is just another day of the year (ask those who work). Japan's XMAS never evolved beyond the DISNEY level. If they like it - let everyone grow happy in her own way. But please don't call it Christmas...

    You can also insist that there are "REAL CHRISTMAS DISHES". Those dishes are made only for Christmas according to tradition. Take Christstollen from Germany, which has been reported for the first time almost 700 years ago and commented even by the pope more than 500 years ago (he allowed butter instead of oil if a fine was paid to the church). This is definitely REAL CHRISTMAS tradition.

  • -3

    LifeIsPain

    You can get turkey at Costco, among other things appropriate for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    Yeah KFC at christmas made me go "huh?" at first too. Its like a poor redneck trailer trash kind of Christmas meal. So I guess it takes me home a bit!

    But it was a logical step from turkey to chicken in the absence of turkey. Now its a tradition that has about as much to do with the real Christmas as, say, a pine tree in your living room. It is possible that one day no will know who Santa Claus is, but everyone will eat KFC on Christmas! There is no predicting what direction traditions will go or be taken forcefully by corporations. Remember Santa used to wear green until the Coca-cola company chose red!

  • 1

    Foxie

    The problem with the turkey is that it would never fit into my beautiful Japanese oven. Turkey for Xmas is definitely an American tradition as strange to me as KFC. Back home we eat salmon and roasted lamb or duck for Xmas. I made that for my nice Japanese husband the first year here. All he could say was: Why didn't you buy KFC? It is Christmas after all. OK, that was the first and last time I made Christmas food. When in Rome, do like the Romans. I must say though that I prefer the roasted chicken from the Brazilian supermarkets.

  • 1

    ExportExpert

    Bring on the potato and gravy KFC Japan and make some real sales, foreigners will go to your stores to buy the potato n gravy and then also get some fried chicken.

    The potato n gravy is what is needed at KFC in Japan.

  • 0

    kaminarioyaji

    I seriously thought the person who first told me about this was winding me up...

  • -1

    Juan Carlos Barbosa Padilla

    Someone likes KFC so bad that is disliking every comment over the ways the foreigners enjoy Christmas... that was not bad... anyway... my mother makes pozole for Christmas Eve and sometimes in the afternoon we ate KFC chicken in order to give her more time for dinner, specially if there were visitors to my home previous to the Christmas Eve dinner...

  • 1

    susieuk

    i always had kfc as a kid on christmas eve. i was on my own last year so i had it for chistmas day last year! yummy!

  • -1

    nigelboy

    You are correct in saying that there is no 'right way' to do it, but you cannot forget to take into account that it is in IMPORTED 'holiday' here (and you still have to work), where many Western ways of celebrating are imitated because that is the idea. It's not like someone 400 years ago in Japan on a December 24th night said, "Let's eat chicken on the 24th from this day fourth!" and it became tradition.

    It's not even a "holiday", smith.

  • 2

    SushiSake3

    Non-Caucasians might laugh at how rabbits and chocolate eggs ever became associated with Easter, a commemoration of a murder 2000 odd years ago.

    But most of us never think to question it.

  • 0

    Elbuda Mexicano

    Spidapig have a merry Christmas! Back in New Zealand right??

  • -1

    Elbuda Mexicano

    Juan Carlos what kind of pozole did your mom make?? Cual estilo paisa??

  • 1

    Elbuda Mexicano

    I want KFC to add Christmas TAMALES to their Japanese menu!!

  • 0

    bass4funk

    @Elbuda,

    Just brought a giant pound sack of Maseca and will make some delicious home made "Christmas sweet tamales" and a Turkey, might get a chicken or two at KFC, you are more than happy to come over!!

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