In Japan, Christmas Means a Bucket Of KFC

It's a real craze—people actually queue for Christmas KFC instead of turkey. But how did this start?

For this year's festive season, each day until Christmas we bring you 12 Facts of Christmas. Here's Day Two.

Japanese Christians comprise less than one per cent of the population, and Christmas isn’t a national holiday. Still, the festival has become one of many imported Western fascinations, and evolved to become a secular and largely commercial affair with its own idiosyncrasies.

In Japan, Christmas Eve is more akin to Valentine’s Day, with couples spending the night together on romantic dates. Unless they spend that evening queuing for the star of the Christmas Day feast—a bucket of KFC chicken.

Colonel Santa outside a Japanese KFC store in Tokyo, 2012.
PHOTO: yobgorf via Flickr/CC BY NC ND 2.0

This peculiar tradition is a direct result of a highly successful “Kentucky for Christmas” (Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!) marketing campaign that was started in December 1974 by KFC Japan. The company had only entered the Japanese market four years earlier; the first store opened in Nagoya on 21 November, 1970.

According to some accounts, KFC got the idea from seeing foreigners opt for their fried chicken after unsuccessfully trying to obtain the more traditional turkey. These days in Japan it’s not unusual to order your Christmas fried chicken months in advance to avoid lengthy queues around the block.

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