You wouldn’t think so, but Christmas Day is a big day in Japan. It’s a day that has become an event, not so much for the actual celebration of Christmas, but for the meal that is sought after on that day; a meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC, the American fast-food chain that sells chicken, is the place to go on Christmas Day in Japan, and it all came about because of some interesting marketing.
A group of foreigners in the early 1970s discovered that turkey didn’t exist in Japan, and they had to opt for chicken as their Christmas meal. Kentucky Fried Chicken saw an opportunity, and in 1974, they launched a marketing campaign called “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii,” which translated into “Kentucky for Christmas.”
KFC pushed hard with their campaign until everyone in Japan (or at least many people) associated chicken, specifically KFC chicken, with Christmas. It didn’t matter that an extremely small amount of people in Japan were Christian because the diners flocked for the feast. That first meal consisted of chicken and wine for about $10. Today, the chicken dinner comes with cake and champagne for about $40.
But it takes some planning to get the popular meal. People begin ordering in October, months before Christmas Day, since there are long waits on the big chicken day. About 3.6 million people take part in getting a chicken dinner on Christmas, and KFC sells about 1.5 million items related to the day. It’s KFC’s highest sales day during the year.
KFC has 1,165 restaurants in Japan, and they opened their first one in Nagoya in 1970. The tradition has continued for over 40 years and has no signs of slowing. It would probably be hard to fathom for many Japanese that KFC is not even open in the United States on Christmas Day.