Saturday, December 24, 2011

A KFC Christmas in Japan

Today over lunch with a group of friends (Pakistani place in Azabujuban called Siddique Palace, good food especially the bakray ki raan) conversation turned to plans for Christmas day.

"So are you going to KFC tomorrow?"

Er... didn't really have any plans in particular. Why?

"It's the thing to do! Everybody goes to KFC on Christmas! The tradition is to have fried chicken."

Huh. Had no idea. How did this come about?

Here no one seemed to know for sure. One of the Japanese girls at the table said that many years ago a Westerner was in Japan and wanted to eat turkey for Christmas dinner but not finding any opted for fried chicken from KFC instead. Someone else pointed out that with most Japanese not having ovens in their homes, baking a turkey or chicken is out of the question, and so getting chicken from KFC is just more practical.

Which is all fine and good I guess, and when I got home and Googled this it seemed to confirm what I'd just heard about the origins of chicken for Christmas. From CNN:
According to the company, their holiday campaign was first conceived in 1971, at their Aoyama store. A homesick foreigner wandered in, bemoaned Japan’s lack of turkey, and chose fried chicken as the next-best alternative.

Today, the company claims, ”Japan has a custom of chicken for Christmas, and the origin of this custom is KFC.”
But  the question still remains as to why this foreigner wanted turkey for Christmas. Is that a tradition somewhere that I haven't heard of? I know of course about turkey and Thanksgiving but this I can't understand. (Edit: Well, I'm obviously ignorant. As commenters have pointed out this is an established practice.)

Anyway, regardless of origin, the tradition is now firmly in place, and I'm sure we can all agree that this is ingenious marketing by KFC. Convince people that this is how it's done abroad and create a tradition out of thin air. KFC starts taking orders for party packs two months in advance. Japan Times quotes a KFC spokesman as saying that sales over Christmas account for 20% of annual sales, while another piece from the Financial Times says that sales over December 23, 24 & 25 are half normal monthly sales. The CNN article mentioned above also talks about how McDonald's now wants a piece of this market and is expanding the chicken offerings on its menu.

More Googling revealed that the largest density of KFCs in Japan is in Okinawa Prefecture, with 1.38 restaurants per 100,000 people. Okinawa is an island where the US has military bases so American consumers are probably what drive the business there. Also apparently the tradition there is to give fried chicken from KFC as wedding gifts. Sort of similar to Pakistan in that sense, how strong ties exist between weddings and the poultry industry!

On my way home from the lunch I popped into the KFC near my house and sure enough they had extra staff outside taking orders. Inside they were advertising their special Christmas menu:


While the whole dining area inside the store had been converted into a delivery station. If you had pre-ordered you just brought your receipt here where they had stacked up all the boxes and picked up your order.


Now if you'll excuse me I have some chicken nuggets to wolf down.

7 comments:

PakAmeristanican said...

Roasting a goose, turkey, or ham is a pretty typical Christmas thing. Recipes abound for Christmas turkey, for example.

Shahir said...

Hmmm never knew that. The only Christmas tradition I knew of was all non-Christmas-celebrators eating Chinese food!

ruairi said...

You, at home, where there is no thanksgiving, it's always turkey. Even Scrooge ate turkey on christmas. Happy Christmas mate!

ruairi said...

Oops, the first word was supposed to be yup not you

ruairi said...

You, at home, where there is no thanksgiving, it's always turkey. Even Scrooge ate turkey on christmas. Happy Christmas mate!

Shahir said...

Hey Ruairi, wow, I didn't know that. Learn something every day. Merry Christmas to you too! Hope all's well.

Lukiepoo said...

I've got your back here, Sha. I don't think there is such a thing as a "typical" American Christmas meal like there is for Thanksgiving. Some people maintain traditions from their family's nation of origin, like the Italian feast of the seven fishes (which I want to try cause it sounds amazing). My family almost never does the same thing twice. We've had ham, turkey, soup, chicken, seafood, roasts, you name it. The only constant is that there are always cookies.