Monday, December 22, 2014

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Why do the Japanese eat KFC for Christmas?

Japan is by no means a Christian country. It has one or less than one per cent of Christians. It has some restrictions on religious activity but in particular there exists a suspicion against non-Japanese belief systems. 

Yet, some Christian ideas and practices, particularly surrounding weddings and Christmas, are not only accepted but are now hugely popular. 

In fact, many Japanese girls love and cherish and dream about getting married in a chapel wearing a white dress with traditional Christian liturgy. 

And while the idea of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and the incarnation of the God himself has not caught on, there has been a growing trend for other festive ideas such as Christmas trees, gift-giving, decorations as well as eating traditional Christmas foods such as Kentucky Fried Chicken. 

Say what? Or as the Japanese would say, 'honto ni'? (really?) 

KFC? At Christmas? 

That's right. In fact, it is so popular that not only can you pre-order your 'Christmas chicken', but that if you don’t pre-order you could easily wait up to 2 hours to lick your fingers, or for better or worse, miss out all together. Many KFC stores sell out of chicken at Christmas. 

Say what? Honto ni? 

That’s right, despite the vast pools of oil being put into overdrive, many stores cannot cope with the demand and while there may be room at the KFC inn, there is unfortunately no chicken (leaving some people to consider whether they should start lickin other people's fingers) 

But this entire scenario raises three very important questions: 

Firstly, the philosophical one, namely, is KFC still KFC without any chicken, and do those stores that run out, like a no vacancy hotel, have to turn out the 'C' light to indicate its chickenless status? 

Secondly, there is the medical question, namely, what are the health implications for an entire society binging on fried chicken in a 24 hour period? 

And thirdly, the sociological one, that is, why is going to KFC considered an appropriate date night on Christmas Eve, when in almost every other country that KFC operates, even the suggestion of taking someone to KFC for Christmas would not impress your date, but most likely leave you dateless. 

Unfortunately I don't know the answer to those three questions but I do know how it all started, that is, Japanese people eating KFC at Christmas. 

But before I get to the real reason for this phenomenon, I recently asked all of my Japanese friends and here are 5 actual responses I got to the question "Why do Japanese people eat KFC at Christmas?": 

1. Because that's what Americans eat for Christmas 
2. Because that's what non-Japanese eat for Christmas 
3. Because chicken tastes like turkey and that's what you eat for Christmas 
4. Because that's where my girlfriend wants me to take her 
5. Because that's what we do at Christmas, don't you? 

While such answers may or may not be representative of an entire country, the actual reason is because of a wildly successful advertising campaign which began in 1974, with an amazingly simple but powerful slogan - "Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakki" - Kentucky for Christmas, or loosely translated, Christmas equals Kentucky. 

In the 1970s, this phrase, along with a bit of adverstising dollar, managed to convince Japanese people that they should have a bucket of Chicken for Christmas, (not Turkey, which is a virtually non-existent meat in Japan). 

I'm lead to believe that in 1974 the first Christmas and wine meal deal was offered for about 10 dollars. It is now close to four times that price at approximately 3880 Yen but is rumoured to include cake and champagne, in addition to your 'christmas chicken'. 

So that means that this year, 2014, is the 40 year anniversary. And while there is really no need for any further marketing or advertising, as there is an entire generation (perhaps even two) who already know that Christmas means Kentucky, they still do. That is, almost every year there is a huge KFC campaign, complete with a countdown to Christmas, and a few major pop cultural figures dancing with a drumstick, wiggling with a few crispy wings, or generally looking like they are enjoying that good ole finger lickin fried chicken. 

Have you ever been in Japan at Christmas time? Did you have KFC? If so, please leave a comment below.


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