The curious tale of how Japan got hooked on KFC at Christmas
There is almost a sense of purity when it comes Japanese cuisine with all the emphasis on the freshness of ingredients and retaining as much original flavours of the ingredients. Indeed, Japan is host to the highest number of Michelin starred restaurants. Yet, like everything Japanese, there is an oddity involved with Japanese when it comes to their food preferences – a Christmas time fascination for KFC – a fast food chain serving processed meat, deep fried, anything but Japanese or as the author of this piece puts it “the Japanese choose to associate the day with the archetypal company of the aptly named standard American diet (processed meat, pre-packaged foods, butter, fried foods, high-sugar drinks)”.
Between December 23 and 25 is when KFC Japan has its highest sales of the year. All in all, the company sells approximately 300,000 party barrels and 800,000 Christmas packs during this peak season, which accounts for about a third of the chain’s yearly sales in Japan….Each year, it’s estimated that 3.6 million Japanese people fill their stomachs with the Colonel’s secret blend of herbs and spices.”
The article traces the origins of this ‘tradition’ for the Japanese to line up in hordes outside KFC stores across the country.
“To understand why, we must travel back in time to December 1974, when KFC Japan, a company run by the American parent and the Japanese Mitsubishi Corporation, had been serving the land of the rising sun for just four years….. it was on this date that the first manager of KFC, Takeshi Okawara, overheard foreigners in his store commiserating over the country’s lack of Christmas dinner. Later, in a dream, Okawara beheld a “party barrel” – a fried chicken experience to replace these sad expats’ turkey, all at a low low all-inclusive price. (This scheme did well for Okawara. He became president and CEO of Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan from 1984 to 2002.)
“KFC came to Japan in 1970, and held the first Christmas campaign in 1974, selling the combination of KFC’s original recipe chicken and a bottle of wine,” says Yuko Nakajima, chief marketing officer of KFC Japan. “Fried chicken and wine became a hit right away and a new Christmas custom for the Japanese market was introduced. This quickly evolved into a tradition for the market, ‘Fried Chicken for Christmas’.”