Why Christmas = KFC in Japan

Why Christmas = KFC in Japan

Christmas may not be a national holiday in Japan, but that doesn’t mean people won’t be celebrating!

Only around 1% of Japanese people consider themselves Christian, so to most Japanese, Christmas is celebrated more like a Valentine’s Day of sorts, with young couples or groups of friends going on strolls through fancy displays of holiday decorations and lights.

Osaka - 2011
Osaka - 2011

And families celebrate with a big old box of KFC.

Yup, that’s right, Christmas = KFC in Japan.

Although I guess I should say that Christmas = Kentucky, since the Japanese simply call KFC ‘Kentucky’.

Japan is the only country in the world where KFC offers special set meals for Christmas. And these aren’t your typical tub of fried chicken meals, these also come with salad, cake, and wine or champagne for just over US$40.

Osaka - 2011

Lines get so long come Christmas Eve that some people find themselves waiting for three hours just to get their fried chicken goodness in time for the holidays.

If waiting in line isn’t your thing, you can also pre-order your Christmas KFC, but you’ll need to do that months in advance.

So why do Japanese go KFC crazy come Christmas?

Well, apparently the idea came from an expat customer back in the day who said he was eating KFC for Christmas because turkey doesn’t exist in Japan.

Yup, majority of Japanese people have never tasted turkey in their life. Since the bird isn’t native to Japan and most Japanese who have tried turkey dislike the taste, turkey never caught on and now is near impossible to find. Trust me, when I lived there, we tried to find some for Thanksgiving to no avail. 

So upon hearing this expat’s plan for chicken-substitution on Christmas, KFC decided to pour thousands of yen into a new marketing campaign, and in 1974 Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii (クリスマスにはケンタッキー; “Kentucky for Christmas”) went kinda viral.

Since then, the catchphrase “Christmas = Kentucky” began appearing on plenty of TV commercials and print ads, and it just sort of caught on.

Or maybe it’s because the Colonel happens to look like Santa Claus when dressed in a Santa hat…

Osaka - 2011

Whatever the reason, the Japanese just can’t get enough of KFC on Christmas.

Even today, some 40 years later, KFC states that its highest sales volume each year is still on Christmas Eve. National airline JAL also wanted to cash in on those sales, so since 2012, the airline actually serves KFC on its flights for three months around Christmas time each year.

Crazy or ingenius? I don’t know.

In Japan, KFC is the reason for the season, and it doesn’t look like this tradition will be going away anytime soon!

Osaka - 2011

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What do you think of this odd Christmas tradition? What Christmas traditions do you have of your own?

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8 Comments

  1. Grace | The Beauty of Everywhere
    December 27, 2014 / 6:26 am

    Wow, I did not know about this! I was on Skype to a friend in South Korea today, and he said Christmas is a day for couples there too. I’ve learned things today!

  2. December 27, 2014 / 9:44 am

    Crazy, japan really never fails to suprise and excite me :-D
    great marketing campaign

    • Beth Williams
      January 6, 2015 / 10:21 pm

      It really was a great marketing campaign! To have this effect still 40-some years later… wow.

  3. December 25, 2014 / 7:26 am

    I can’t believe people wait up to three hours in line for KFC! I never would have guessed Japan would be so KFC crazy, ha.

    • Beth Williams
      January 6, 2015 / 10:19 pm

      Haha I know! Maybe it’s because I don’t like KFC to begin with, but I just couldn’t get over all the lines I saw.

  4. December 25, 2014 / 6:50 am

    I just watched a video about this topic, and I find it to be very interesting…. did you ever eat Kentucky when you lived in Japan?

    • Beth Williams
      January 6, 2015 / 10:18 pm

      I did! I honestly am not a fan of KFC (although it does taste a bit better in Japan) but my host family insisted when it came time for Thanksgiving and, of course, Christmas!