“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes Colonel Sanders would soon be there.”
As ad-driven as that satire may sound, it pretty much describes the next couple of days in Japan where fried chicken, not turkey, is the flavour of the month during the festive holiday season.
The quirky tradition began in the 70s when the then fast-growing Japanese economy was consuming all things western, including the newly arrived Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets. According to the company, it all started when a rep from a Christian Mission school stationed in Japan couldn’t find whole turkeys or chicken anywhere to celebrate Xmas, ultimately settling for the finger-licking fast-food instead. A quick-thinking KFC marketing trend-spotter took note and adeptly launched their 1974 “Christmas=Kentucky” advertising campaign, showcasing a Christmas package (a $10 combination of chicken and wine) that quickly became an instant hit. While less than half of one percent of Japanese are actually Christian, the multifaith country is known for its tolerance of other religions and love for a good festival. In fact, December 25th isn’t even a national holiday in Japan but the 23rd is — the birthday of the current emperor — close enough by most accounts.
The custom has now become so popular that consumers are advised to order two months in advance as the KFC’s 1,240 restaurants are routinely sold out by Dec 23rd, bringing in half of a normal month’s total haul in just 3 days. As the below ad shows, Christmas in Japan is best served fried.