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The Surprising Meal Japan Goes Kentucky-Fried Crazy Over At Christmas

The Surprising Meal Japan Goes Kentucky-Fried Crazy Over At Christmas

KFC has risen to popularity since a Japanese man overheard a stranger's conversation 50 years ago



"So, what are you having for Christmas dinner?"

This particular question always pops up around 10 December when the Christmas break is in sight... And it says a lot about our Christmas traditions in Europe and the US, doesn't it? Food is, after all, the glue sticking the year's best holiday together.

But far away to the East in Japan, you would be surprised to receive a very unusual response to that question.

It isn't a fruit-stuffed goose, as in Germany. Nor is it dried-fruit Panettone, as in Italy.

No. The Japanese are KFC-crazy about Kentucky-fried chicken at Christmas.


Around 3.6 million Japanese families tuck into a bucket, bag, or bowl of KFC every Christmas Eve.

And in some KFC restaurants, sales rocket sky-high to 10 times their usual levels.

Queues wind down streets and around corners with hungry people craving the finger-lickin' goodness.

Some are waiting for hours, so it's no surprise the special Christmas dinner packages make up over 30 percen of the company's yearly sales in Japan.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the Japanese don't even celebrate Christmas as we do in 'the West'.


For the most part, they're Buddhist and Shinto with only 1.5 percent of people being Christian, according to the Agency for Cultural Affairs.

But still, Christmas has become a global affair and many Japanese join in without the religious aspect others celebrate it for.

While the cause for celebration is understandable, why such a hankering for crunchy deep-fried wings and strips?

To explain that, we must first rewind to 70s Japan.

Back then, a chap called Takeshi Okawara managed the country's first-ever KFC joint and he apparently overheard a bunch of foreigners complain about missing turkey for Christmas when they visited his restaurant.


Although turkey was (for an unknown reason) unavailable, Takeshi knew fried chicken would be the best alternative.

He conceived the idea for a 'party barrel' to feed customers something special over Christmas and the scheme took off in 1974.

Associate professor of marketing at Emlyon Business School Joonas Rokka told the BBC: "It filled a void. There was no tradition of Christmas in Japan, and so KFC came in and said this is what you should do on Christmas."

'Kentucky for Christmas' was quick to become a nationwide phenomenon and Takeshi became KFC Japan's CEO for 18 years as a result.

KFC Japan even started dressing mascot Colonel Sanders in a red Santa Claus outfit to cement its place as the country's Christmas-time meal.

"It's kind of a symbol of family reunion," said father-of-two Ryohei Ando. "It's not about the chicken. It's about getting the family together, and then there just happens to be chicken as part of it."

Words: Charlie Metcalfe

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Christmas, KFC, Japan