It’s a question that many foreign people living in Japan ask every year around this time, when the iconic red, white and green marketing campaigns go up across the nation: How did Christmas in Japan become synonymous with a fast food joint?
Foreigners may laugh at the queues that form outside branches of Kentucky Fried Chicken 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 ex-pat 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 the 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.
Or it might just be because Colonel Sanders in a Santa cap looks a whole lot like Santa Claus.
Whatever the reason, chicken is big business for KFC in December. 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.
Company officials say KFC records its highest sales volume each year on Christmas Eve.
KFC gets celebs to help, as well. In the past, popular actress Haruka Ayase appeared in TV commercials and other ad campaigns for the food chain, helping to promote the company’s Kentucky Christmas campaign including reservations for the KFC Party Barrel and other Christmas set menus in late November.
In 2015, the company seems to have decided on a more family-oriented theme, with two very young leads playing a brother and sister bringing a bucket of chicken home for a family “Kentucky Christmas” after a big day out viewing some Christmas illuminations.
This year’s Party Barrel promotion features a cute girl bond with another younger cute girl perhaps to suggest how the KFC at Christmas tradition is, well, an actual tradition — one that is passed down from generation to generation.
So, we have to ask: are you down for fried chicken this Christmas in Japan? How do you feast during the holidays here? As usual, let us know in the comments!
This post was updated from the original on Dec 5, 2018.