Around December 25th, families gather around the table to enjoy a special meal of fried chicken. Orders for buckets of fried drumsticks and breasts can be placed starting from early November, and even then, you’ll have to wait in massive queues that form outside KFC outlets across the country on Christmas to pick up your order. But why?
It all traces back to one man: Takeshi Okawara, the determined manager of the first KFC in Japan, opened in Nagoya in November 1970.
The company’s stance is that Okawara dreamt of selling a festive bucket full of chicken and initiated a campaign in one store to boost sales. He heard from an immigrant that they missed having turkey for Christmas, and chicken would be a great alternative for the holiday season.
Okawara’s venture set the tone for Christmas in Japan for decades, especially after the winter of 1974. The party bucket with fried chicken became a national sensation in 1974 with the slogan “Kentucky for Christmas!” solidifying the connection between fried chicken and Christmas in the minds of many Japanese.
The absence of Christian traditions associated with Christmas in Japan, and perhaps Colonel Sanders (the founder of KFC, whose image is ubiquitous in every restaurant and bears a resemblance to Santa Claus, especially when adorned with a Santa hat and new red attire), made it relatively easy to create a new tradition.
How important is this, really? Well, it’s probably a third of KFC’s annual sales volume in Japan. It’s not exactly an inexpensive indulgence: a standard party box with eight pieces of chicken, shrimp gratin, and a chocolate cake (yes, KFC Japan makes cakes) costs 4,580 yen (31 USD) when pre-ordered.
To make life more convenient (and profitable), KFC has also extended Christmas to the days leading up to December 25th, just to cope with the chicken frenzy. Considering that Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan and probably never will be (unless Colonel Sanders becomes an honorary citizen), it’s probably for the best.
If you find yourself in Tokyo on Christmas and don’t want to stand in line for KFC, it’s best to head to a 24-hour convenience store and simply buy chicken there – but be aware that they usually sell out too. Merry Christmas at Kentucky Fried Chicken!