World

Forget the turkey: When it comes to Christmas, 'we Japanese think of KFC chicken'

In Japan, the Christmas tradition isn’t turkey — it’s chicken. And to be specific, it’s the Kentucky fried variety.

Tradition started in 1974 after foreign customer couldn't find turkey in Tokyo to celebrate holiday

In Japan, the Christmas tradition is chicken, the Kentucky fried variety, not turkey. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

The line of people stretches out the door of the restaurant. There are moms, dads, a kid or two and young couples, all waiting to pick up their Christmas meals.

In Japan, the Christmas tradition isn't turkey — it's chicken. And to be specific, it's the Kentucky fried variety.

It started back in the early '70s.

"The idea of the campaign came from what one foreign customer said in our store in Aoyama, Tokyo," said a statement from KFC's public affairs team.

"She said, 'I can't get turkey here in Japan. I just have no choice but celebrating Christmas with KFC chicken.'"

Every year, people put their orders in weeks in advance to reserve a pickup time. If you don't, there's no guarantee you'll be able to get your chicken when you want it. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

So the sales department came up with a campaign called "Kentucky for Christmas" in 1974 and made it an annual tradition.

Every year, people put their orders in weeks in advance to reserve a pickup time. If you don't, there's no guarantee you'll be able to get your chicken when you want it.

"When I was a kid, I saw the TV commercial. So when it comes to Christmas, we Japanese think of KFC chicken," said Yoko Ogata.

For some Japanese people, ordering KFC is a childhood tradition that continues today. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

It's her third year in a row for putting in an order.

"My son likes the flavour of the chicken."

For office worker Midori Aoki, ordering KFC was a childhood tradition that continues today.

"That's what my husband likes for every Christmas," she said.

Despite the KFC tradition, some Japanese opt for other options for Christmas dinner because 'options are much broader now.' (Adam Walsh/CBC)

These days in Japan, some people opt for other alternatives to the colonel.

Minori Takao, 43, says her family always ordered KFC when she was a kid.

"Not many stores sold chicken whole. What Japanese knew as Christmas dinner in the West was a big roasted turkey or chicken. We settled on KFC. Or KFC marketed it just right and everyone thought it was the easy alternative," said Takao.

But now that she's a mom, she says things have changed a bit.

Last year, from Dec. 23-25, KFC sold 5.49 billion yen worth (over $63 million Cdn) of chicken. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

"Now a lot of places sell chicken whole, so it doesn't have to be KFC. Options are much broader now."

But don't think people's expanded options have put a dent in sales. 

Last year, for the Dec. 23-25 period, KFC sold 5.49 billion yen worth (over $63 million Cdn) of chicken in Japan — setting a record for per-store sales.

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