Why Is Japan Obsessed With Kentucky Fried Chicken On Christmas?

Amazingly, Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan. In fact, only 1 percent of the Japanese population is estimated to be Christian.


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Endless queues outside KFC are a common site in Tokyo on Christmas. The love for the fast food chain's bucket of “Christmas Chicken” is the stuff legends are made of.

Every Christmas season, an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families treat themselves to fried chicken.

KFC special Christmas dinner often requires ordering weeks in advance. Some enthusiasts even make reservations as early as October.



The unusual tradition is the product of the insanely successful “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) marketing campaign that started way back in 1974.

The man behind the brilliant scheme was Takeshi Okawara, the manager of the first ever KFC in the country.

When a group of foreigners couldn’t find turkey on Christmas Day and opted for fried chicken instead, he saw this as a prime commercial opportunity and launched the first Christmas meal: chicken and wine.

Since then, KFC has recorded its highest sales volume each year on Christmas Eve. Back office staff and even executives and presidents come out to help.

In 2012, the company even launched a campaign — from Dec. 1 through Feb. 28 passengers on select trips between Tokyo and eight U.S. and European destinations could enjoy KFC in-flight.

So why the madness?

“It filled a void,” says Joonas Rokka, associate professor of marketing at Emlyon Business School in France. “There was no tradition of Christmas in Japan, and so KFC came in and said, this is what you should do  on Christmas.”

Japan is the third-largest market for KFC after China and the United States with 1,165 outlets as of December 2014. In Japan, 70 percent of sales are take-away, with customers tending to buy fried chicken for parties and other special occasions and eating it as a side dish.

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