The days are getting shorter, the temperatures cooler, and the decorations brighter. Yep, it’s Christmas time again, and people all over the world are getting into the spirit.
It’s that most festive of seasons when the towns, cities, and houses get decorated elaborately, the ovens (if you have one) get warmed up for some good Christmas treats courtesy of Grandma (if you have one), everyone runs around town trying to find that perfect present for their kin before settling down with the last Gluehwein for the day, and the ever-present “Last Christmas” by the 80’s group Wham providing the background music for what is arguable the best Holiday of the year
Some do it for religious reasons, some do it to spend time with friends and family, and some do it, well…. because they’ve always done it – it’s just what you do around this time of year. In Japan, “it’s just what you do” also includes pre-reserving your very own Christmas Dinner … from KFC.
Yep, believe you me when I tell you there are long lines forming even now in front of KFC outlets all over Japan to reserve a good ole’ fashioned bucket o’ (Christmas) chiken. Someone once said: “There’s a right way, there’s a wrong way, and then there’s the Japanese way”, and it certainly applies to the rather peculiar tradition of eating, nay, craving KFC as a Christmas Dinner.
Kurisumasu ni … Kentakkiii!!!
as the old saying goes. What we would consider nothing but some fast food is a rare delicacy in Japan. But where did this fascination with The Colonel’s Chicken come from? Well, grab ‘yer bucket o’chicken, and hop on this time-machine with me, cause it’s about to get reeeeeel interesting.
Traditionally a western celebration, the Christmas tradition has long since made the ardous journey across the big ocean and grew firm roots in Japan, where it dates back all the way to the Sengoku Period (戦国時代 1467-1603). During this time, a missionary named Francis Xavier introduced some Christianity, and with it the Christmas traditions, to the Japanese. The first Christmas service was held on these shores in 1552 AD. It wasn’t until the Meiji Restoration, however, that Christmas began becoming engrained in Japan as well. Mainly (re-)introduced through parties held by foreigners, it has enjoyed a steady increase in popularity since then.
The Japanese are very tolerant of all faiths, and the tradition of Christmas has taken on a very different meaning here. One could still consider it a festival of love… just in a different way. You see, for most Japanese people, Christmas is more akin to Valentine’s Day: Couples go on (usually very exclusive) dates, exchange personal gifts, and proclaim their affections for one-another with a twinkle in their eyes, oh and some chicken, of course.
Heaps of people will flock in droves to KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) to get their Christmas Chicken, which often must be reserved Weeks, or even Months in advance, lest ye be stranded without ‘yer Christmas Chicken.
It all started when a group of foreigners (who else, right? 😀 ) couldn’t find turkey on Christmas day one year many moons ago, and opted for the only available substitute instead – Fried Chicken. Luckily for them, the first KFC in Japan had just opened in Nagoya (Sakae) in 1970 and quickly gained popularity. This continued for a few years, when, seeing a great business opportunity, the KFC company launched a Christmas meal soon after: Chicken and Wine for (equivalent of) ¥2,920, which was big money in the 70s. Then, once the popularity of the meal grew more and more, in 1974 the KFC company launched a wildly successful marketing campaign that has permeated Japanese Christmas Traditions (and dinner tables) ever since. I’m sure most older Japanese people can still remember the slogan:
“Kurisumasu ni wa ( ha) Kentakkiii!”
The rest, as they say, is hi-sto-ryyy.
So, the whole KFC for Christmas craze joins the ranks of Pachinko, Tebasaki (chicken wings), and the Nagoya-maki/名古屋巻き (special layered curly hair on women) to have originated in Nagoya. And you thought Tokyo was the biggest trend-setter in Japan… Ha!
So you better head out, you better comply, I’m telling you why. Colonel Sanders is coming to… your dinner table.
Thanks for reading, everyone and hope you all have a safe and wonderful Holiday Season, wherever you may be in the world!