Today I found out Kentucky Fried Chicken is a Christmas tradition for many Japanese.
So how exactly did Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, become synonymous with a bucket of fried chicken in the land of the rising sun? Well for one, Christmas wasn’t really celebrated at all historically in Japan and has only relatively recently been adopted. The Japanese predominantly followed the Buddhism and Shinto religions, so Christmas was essentially adopted from the West and holds no religious significance to many Japanese, even today.
In fact, Christianity was actually banned throughout Japan in the 1600s and continued to be so until the mid 1800s. However, during this period, a small enclave group of Japanese Christians, known as ‘Kakure Kirishitan’ (“hidden Christians”) continued the missionary work of Saint Francis Xavier who arrived in Japan in 1549. After a period of underground practices of Christianity, the religion along with Christmas practices, reemerged somewhere between 1868 and 1912. It wasn’t long after that many Japanese started to mirror Western Christmas traditions like exchanging gifts, decorating trees, putting up lights, etc, even though it was not a national holiday in Japan.
According to KFC, this particular unusual Christmas tradition is said to date back to the 1970’s when supposedly a customer at the chain’s Aoyama store observed that, in a land bereft of the customary turkey for celebratory dinner, fried chicken was the next best thing. This idea eventually percolated up to the corporate offices of KFC and prompted the company to start a huge advertising campaign in Japan called “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) in 1974, which became ludicrously popular thanks to this campaign and the popularity of American culture in Japan at the time.
KFC or just ‘Kentucky’ as the Japanese refer to it, has milked this Christmas tradition in the country ever since, and even portrays their founder and well known icon, Colonel Sanders, as the Father of Christmas, dressing statues of him outside every KFC in Santa suits. Colonel Santa!
The custom of eating KFC for Christmas is so popular in Japan that you’ll not only see lines of people snaked outside every branch in the country, but people even reserve their buckets of chicken months in advance just to see it on their dinner tables on Christmas!
- The Japanese custom of a KFC Christmas doesn’t come cheap, their Party bucket which is just an 8 piece Chicken bucket (all dark meat pieces), 5 fried chicken breast strips seasoned with soy sauce and garlic, a salad and chocolate cake costs around 3880 Yen, which is around $46
- Colonel Sanders is somewhat of a cult figure in Japan. Not only is there a life-sized statue of the Colonel in front of most KFCs in Japan, but his memorabilia, like wind-up toys and figurines, can be found at many toy stores throughout Japan.
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