Why is KFC so popular for Christmas dinner in Japan?

A quirky tradition in Japan sees people tuck into a KFC bargain bucket on Christmas Day, instead of a home-cooked dinner, with orders booked weeks in advance.

Stores are getting a holiday-themed makeover as Christmas approaches, decked out in red and green.

The “Kentucky for Christmas” slogan was part of a 1974 marketing campaign for the chicken franchise, and now about 3.6 million Japanese people sit down to eat KFC fried chicken for Christmas each year.

Even KFC’s mascot, Colonel Sanders, dresses up, with life-size models seen in Japanese cities, dressed up as Santa Claus.

Col. Claus!  Even KFC's mascot Colonel Sanders dresses up, with life-size models seen in Japanese cities such as Tokyo (pictured)

Col. Claus! Even KFC’s mascot Colonel Sanders dresses up, with life-size models seen in Japanese cities such as Tokyo (pictured)

The campaign began in the 1970s to tempt tourists and expats with chicken on Christmas Day when they couldn’t find a turkey to eat, and was the brainchild of Takeshi Okawara, the manager of the country’s first KFC , according to the BBC.

Okawara has publicly stated that the idea came to him in a dream, where he imagined people eating KFC at a Christmas party.

However, the real story is that it resulted from a moment of desperation and a slight adjustment to the truth – something he “regrets” today.

Business Insider reports that he slept on sacks of flour after opening his own branch of KFC, and the Westernized red and white signage confused locals, who came to him asking if he ran a barber shop.

Knowing his business was on the line, Okawara went on the radio to explain that the custom of Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas instead of turkey was a popular tradition in the West.


Christmas “barrel” contains original recipe chicken, side salad and gateaux-style chocolate cake, plus a collectible plate

He told Business Insider: “I still regret it, but people liked it because it was something good. [they thought came] of the United States or European countries,’

By 1973, KFC Japan had expanded to 75 locations, making it one of the most successful fast food chains in the country.

The idea stuck and in 1974 the first advertisement to air was aimed at couples – advertising a bucket of chicken accompanied by a bottle of wine.

Because only one percent of the population is Christian, the holiday is often marked by non-traditional festivities and a noticeable lack of religious symbolism.

But for those who do, it’s not as simple as walking in and ordering. December is a busy month for KFC in Japan – daily sales at some restaurants during the Christmas period can be 10 times higher than usual. Getting the meal often requires ordering it weeks in advance, and those who haven’t will be queuing, sometimes for hours.

The KFC Christmas bucket, commonly referred to as a barrel, comes with a limited edition Christmas-themed collector’s plate.

Kentucky Christmas came to Japan in the 1970s, and in 1974 the very first commercial aired on television.

Kentucky Christmas came to Japan in the 1970s, and in 1974 the very first commercial aired on television.

Unsurprisingly, the week leading up to Christmas Eve is the franchise’s highest-grossing week of the year, raking in £38,000,000 (6.1 billion Japanese yen) in 2018 and reaching record sales of £44,000,000. (7.1 billion yen) in 2019.

Revenues fell in 2020 from the previous year’s spike to £43,000.00 (6.9 billion yen) for Christmas week due to Covid-19 restrictions.

In 2021, social distancing regulations threatened the custom as forming large queues was discouraged, with KFC Holdings Japan encouraging customers to order online and collect their food at a certain time instead of queuing outside the door.

Other companies have taken advantage of the fried chicken bonanza, with supermarket chains and convenience stores such as FamilyMart offering their own budget versions of the fried feast.

Read more…

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