Christmastime is a special occasion around the world, and Japan has an extra super special treat its families indulge in for the holiday: Kentucky Fried Chicken! While Christmas is not recognized as an official holiday of the nation, the tradition of KFC appears to date back several decades.
One story from Motoichi Nakatani claims that in search of turkey, the more widely recognized bird of Yuletide, Japanese people looking to try out Christmas for themselves instead settled on fried chicken for their holiday feasts. KFC Japan’s first official manager, Takeshi Okawura pioneered a party box known as “Kentucky For Christmas.” Okawura would later become CEO of KFC Japan from the late 90’s to the early 2000’s.
Joonas Rokka, associate professor of marketing at Emlyon Business School in France teaches that “Kentucky For Christmas” is a model business campaign. In his words: “There was no tradition of Christmas in Japan, and so KFC came in and said, this is what you should do on Christmas.”
In a statement on its official website, KFC Japan adds that it started with a single Japanese school in the 1970’s. Hoping to have a fun Christmas party, a Kindergarten class asked KFC to cater for them and also asked if the chain’s local manager would dress up Santa Claus for extra holiday fun (no word on whether or not this outlandish request cost any extra money. Did they even have a spare Santa suit laying around? Did the children think Santa would look white or Japanese?)
It definitely helped that KFC already had a popular older, jolly, bearded man as its mascot: Colonel Sanders.
Soon, multiple schools apparently started requesting Christmas spectaculars from the fast food chain, and by 1974, KFCs around Japan were throwing their own Christmas specials and dinners. People show up in droves on long lines, hoping to take home a festive combination of chicken, cake, and wine.