Even though reportedly only 1 percent of all people in Japan are Christians and celebrate Christmas, Smithsonian Magazine reports that “Christmas Chicken” from KFC has been a countrywide holiday tradition since 1974. Forbes and the BBC have also recently touched on this tradition.
Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan, but thanks to a wildly popular ad campaign from the 1970s, “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” or “Kentucky for Christmas,” families set out on Christmas Eve to pick up the chicken meals that they preordered or wait up to two hours in line for the 3,336 yen ($40) meals. Forbes Magazine says some 3.6 million people take part in the tradition.
Christmas Eve is the Japanese stores’ highest volume sales earner every year. According to Smithsonian, “After the big commercial push in ’74, the catchphrase ‘Christmas=Kentucky’ paired with plenty of commercials on TV caught on.”
Television commercials for “Kentucky for Christmas” feature all the usual trappings of the American holiday: jingle bells, Santa suits, elves, presents and the like. The more recent commercials conclude with a highly Japanese accented “Colonel” cartoon saying “Sooooo good.”
Currently the home page for KFC Japan features a four-image slideshow, two of which are relegated to advertising the Kentucky Christmas offerings.
“It filled a void,” Joona Rokka, associate professor of marketing at Emlyon Business School in France, told the BBC. “There was no tradition of Christmas in Japan, and so KFC came in and said, this is what you should do on Christmas.”
It’s not just on Christmas that Japan enjoys KFC. There are more than 1,200 KFC outlets throughout the country.
According to Smithsonian: “This April, they opened a three-story restaurant at the south entrance of Shimokitazawa station in Tokyo, which offers the company’s first-ever, fully stocked whiskey bar — what their website says gives visitors a taste of ‘Good ‘ol America.'”
Also the Smithsonian reports that from the beginning of December until the end of February, select flights from Tokyo to the U.S. and Europe will serve KFC in-flight.
In other KFC Japan-related news, Japan Today reported that the company introduced a special line of finger sheaths called “Finger Nup,” short for “Finger Napkin,” to keep consumers’ hands from getting greasy as they eat their fried chicken.
“According to KFC Japan, the new product works to improve on the popular napkin-around-the-chicken solution employed by many customers to keep their fingers clean while eating their fried chicken pieces,” Japan Today reported. “Regular napkins weren’t working well enough to keep the oils from saturating through, so the company decided to trial a more oil-resistant material, in the form of plastic, to keep fingers clean.”
Finger Nups cover the index finger and the thumb.