05 Dec 2019 | 3 MIN READ

How did KFC’s Fried Chicken Become a Christmas Tradition in Japan?


For most of us, the dinner table on Christmas is adorned with delicious warm food prepared at home. We can all agree that one of the best parts of Christmas is getting together with your family in the kitchen and learning how to prepare food from a secret family recipe book. But traditions differ from one country to another. In Japan, people celebrate Christmas by having KFC’s finger lickin’ good fried chicken for dinner. 

Via | KFC

Yes, you read that right. In a country where Christians account for less than 2% of the entire population, Japan surprisingly celebrates this holiday on a nationwide scale. Around December 25, people rush to the nearest KFC outlet to grab the popular red and white bucket and have it for dinner with their families. But how did this tradition start? In a few words, it’s a brilliant marketing strategy. 

The first KFC branch in Japan opened its doors in November 1970 in Nagoya, the third most populous city in the country. However, the store struggled to make sales. The store manager, Takeshi Okawara, was approached by a nun from a nearby school. She asked him if KFC would cater a Christmas party that the school is organizing. He agreed, and made sure to go above and beyond: he dressed up as Santa Claus and danced around the classroom! Okawara also said that he decided to market fried chicken as a traditional American Christmas dish, which isn’t the case.

Via | KFC Japan

However, Yum Brands, the parent company of KFC Japan, says that this story is inaccurate. In fact, a foreigner suggested KFC to market fried chicken as Christmas food instead of roasted Turkey.  Colonel Sanders statuses were dressed in Santa Claus costumes to spread the spirit of Christmas and drive sales.

The real story behind the KFC Christmas bucket in Japan is not clear. However, we can agree it’s a brilliant marketing strategy since it saved the chain and increased sales. There are 1,181 KFC outlets in Japan! Every Christmas, Japanese families wait in line to grab the Christmas offer. They either dine at KFC or take away the food and eat it in the comfort of their home. 

Via | The Daily Meal

KFC in Japan developed its Christmas campaign throughout the years. The American chain restaurant offers different types of Christmas combos, depending on your preferences and family size. If you’re hosting a big dinner, you might want to take the marinated chicken or the combo that comes with a cake. Otherwise, you can order smaller Christmas meals.

This successful campaign changed Japan’s Christmas scene drastically. December 25 is also a spin-off to Valentine’s Day, which is celebrated on February 14. Couples have dinner at a fancy restaurant and exchange gifts. Christmas in Japan beautifully merges family and romance.

How does your country celebrate Christmas?