The popular American fast food chain KFC was originally opened in Japan as a joint venture between the American parent and the Japanese Mitsubishi Corporation. The first test store was opened in March 1970 and KFC quickly gained popularity in Japan where they opened 100 outlets by December 1973.
From December 1974, KFC Japan began an advertising campaign promoting fried chicken as a Christmas meal. Since then, eating KFC as a Christmas time meal has become a tradition in Japan. Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan and it wasn’t really celebrated at all historically in Japan. In fact, only one percent of the Japanese population is estimated to be Christian.
While in most parts of the world Kentucky Fried Chicken is not considered to be a traditional Christmas meal and other countries prefer somewhat different Christmas cuisine, Japan is an exception.
The Japanese adopted Christmas and Christmas traditions like exchanging gifts, decorating trees and putting up lights from the West. What they didn’t accept from the West is the traditional Christmas meal and instead, they made Kentucky Fried Chicken a traditional Christmas meal in their country.
It all began in 1974 when a group of tourists in Japan couldn’t track down a Christmas turkey and one suggested that a KFC was the best alternative. The store’s canny manager was paying attention and passed word on to the higher-ups, leading the company to launch its ludicrously successful “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) campaign in 1974, wrote Japan Today. This made KFC a pioneer in modern Christmastime marketing in Japan.
The campaign was a hit and KFC launched its first Christmas meal that year: Chicken and wine for 2,920 yen ($10). Now KFC sells a full Christmas dinner that includes chicken, wine, cake and champagne for around 5,000 yen ($50).
Additionally, KFC portrays their founder and well-known icon, Colonel Sanders, as Father Christmas, dressing statues of him outside every KFC in Santa suits. Despite the fact that only one percent of the population is Christian, the meal has become synonymous with the day.
According to a report by the Smithsonian, people will place their order for their bucket of Christmas chicken months in advance, and lines on Christmas can be as long as two hours. With lines as long as these, all available employees at KFC come out to help, including top-level executives and typically behind-the-scenes staff.
Ever since 1974 “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) has become a bigger and bigger phenomenon and is something that could potentially never go out of style.