KFC for Christmas?


An example of the festive Colonel Sanders statues found throughout Japan during the holidays. (Imaged courtesy of Times Out – Tokyo)

Ryan Rose, Co-Editor

In Japan, Christmas is a secular holiday; this means that Japanese people typically celebrate the holiday in a non-religious way just as most Americans do with holidays like Halloween or Valentine’s Day. One of the most interesting components to the holiday in Japan is the heavy role that KFC plays in the day. As it gets closer and closer to Christmas, more and more life-sized Colonel Sanders statues dressed as Santa go up as KFC’s sales skyrocket. Festive KFC ads begin to appear on television and families begin to order their Christmas diners from KFC ahead of time just to ensure that they will be able to get their bucket without waiting in line for what can sometimes be hours. 

The question most people probably ask themselves after learning about this tradition is… why? After all, KFC is an American restaurant in origin and has no ties to the holiday here within the states. Why is it that in Japan this fast-food restaurant has such a presence? The most supported idea as to why is that the Japanese were somehow misled to believe that KFC is a key part of the traditional American Christmas traditions. 

In the 1970s, Japan’s economy was booming; the nation was now mostly recovered from any damages from World War II and was prospering. The Japanese started to have a heavy interest in pop culture, especially American and Western pop culture due to the fact that the US was, and still is, in many ways a cultural epicenter. American fast food restaurants began to open in Japan, including KFC. KFC advertisements in the nation began to push the idea of “Kentucky for Christmas” in attempts to boost the company’s holiday sales. Some say that the CEO of KFC in Japan, Takeshi Okawara, began to falsely advertise KFC as part of the traditional American holiday celebrations, but the company claims that Okawara came dressed to an event as Santa Claus and when the children in attendance enjoyed his portrayal of the character, he came up with the idea of using the holiday to promote sales. 

No matter how exactly the tradition came to be, it became vastly popular in the country. Japanese KFCs typically have their best-selling day of the year on Christmas Eve and people everywhere rush to get their party buckets of KFC chicken with special “cake fits” and coleslaw. Sharing meals is important in Japanese culture and KFC provides the nation with a quick and easy way to do so each year, even if it may not be as authentically American as it is portrayed to be.