KFC Rules Christmas In Japan
December 15, 2013

KFC Rules Christmas In Japan

You have to book KFC weeks in advance to eat there on Christmas Day in Japan. Eating KFC on Christmas Day is as widespread as our own cracker pulling, turkey eating traditions in the West. Effectively, KFC has taken Christmas Day in Japan under their controlling wing.

It must be the Christmas biggest marketing coup since Coca-Cola turned Santa Claus from red to green. Actually, that ‘fact’ about Coca-Cola isn’t fully accurate; Coca-Cola themselves say that although they pushed the image of a red-clothed Santa because it is the color of their brand, in fact, there were plenty of depictions of Santa in red long before Coca-Cola was around. There were many more of him in green back then, which Coke helped to weed out, but they didn’t invent red Santa, as such. Actually, Coca-Cola claims to have more impact on other aspects of the modern Santa image, such as him being a chubby, jolly fella; they say that before they put him in their advertising, he was often portrayed as a skinny, scary elf type character!

But there is no mistaking KFC’s impact on Christmas in Japan. Takeouts of the colonel’s buckets are ordered as early as the end of October, so as to avoid disappointment, and queues trail around the block. Japan Airlines often serves KFC for their inflight meal for three months around the festive period.

It all began with an advertising campaign during the 1970s which used the phrase ‘Kentucky for Christmas.’ It’s a shame not all advertising is that easily successful, isn’t it? Tell a few people ‘John Hopton’s amateurish, panickingly cooked homemade brownies for Christmas’ and suddenly I’ve got a multi-million dollar new custom on my hands. I guess there was a void to be filled; Japan liked the idea of Christmas, it is colourful and fun, but didn’t have the traditions and possibly didn’t understand why, in a land of delicate simplicity in cooking, anyone would want to spend the whole of the year’s most special day cooking a bird the size of a mobility scooter for ten hours. KFC sounds much easier.

Another Christmas ‘tradition’ in Japan is that Christmas Day is generally seen as couple’s day. The family occasion is New Year or other local holidays, but Christmas Day is like a second Valentine’s Day, a time to be with your partner or go on a hot date.

There are other days throughout the year which are aimed at couples and marketed as successfully as KFC markets Christmas. Realizing the sales capability of Valentine’s Day and its utter meaninglessness as anything else, really, the Japanese and Koreans decided, along with the Chinese, why not add another one? So they celebrate ‘White Day’ on March 14th. Valentine’s Day is the time when girls give boys presents, cards, flowers etc…, and White Day is the other way around. White Day began as an idea of the National Confectionery Industry Association of Japan (very romantic) in the 1970s, around the same time that KFC was taking ownership of Christmas.

I suppose if people get to have another special occasion to look forward to, the economy gets a boost, and no important ancient tradition is trampled on, then there is not really a problem with all of this. Unless, of course, you’re the appointed family member who has to stand out on the street for hours waiting for KFC on Christmas day.

Image Credit: Joennie Sindo / Shutterstock

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John is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in Japan and thoroughly enjoying their food and whiskey. His first novel, Three Little Boys, and his travel book, Following Football, are currently available on Amazon.com.

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