KFC in Japan is a big part of their Christmas celebrations – this is why

Christmas is celebrated all over the world in different ways. In Iceland, people exchange books on Christmas Eve and in Australia people hit the beaches.
But in some countries Christmas is celebrated in a way that might seem strange to outsiders. Japan for instance, is one of them.

According to the BBC, it’s estimated that 3.6 million Japanese families treat themselves to fried chicken from American fast-food chain KFC in a tradition that has been celebrated in the country for decades. But how did it all start?

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KFC Japan was initially opened as a joint venture between the fast food giant’s parent company and the Mitsubishi Corporation. After four years of negotiations Mitsubishi was awarded franchise rights to KFC in Japan and the first test store was opened at the Osaka World Expo in March 1970.

The fried chicken chain proved to be very successful and the first proper store was opened in Nagoya in November the same year.

Despite this KFC was not an immediate hit in Japan. After just one year the relatively small chain found itself saddled with 100 million yen in debt (£686,384 in today's money). This shortcoming led the Mitsubishi Corporation to update its strategy.

KFC’s parent company wanted to locate its stores in suburban areas but Mitsubishi insisted that smaller stores should be opened in cities with larger populations. The plan worked and by 1973 KFC Japan had opened its 100th store.

It wasn’t until December 1974 that KFC Japan started promoting the idea of fried chicken as a Christmas meal.

According to Japan Today “The tradition of eating KFC at Christmas started when an expat customer at the chain’s Toyama store observed that, in a land bereft of Yuletide turkey, fried chicken was the next best thing.”

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“The store’s canny manager was paying attention and passed word on to the higher-ups, leading the company to launch its ludicrously successful ‘Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!’ (Kentucky for Christmas!) campaign in 1974.”

Demand for fried chicken at Christmas soared and the strange tradition had begun.

KFC Japan now sees a large portion of its revenue come from the festive season and staff work around the clock to take pre-orders for fried chicken, often weeks in advance.

Even on Christmas Eve customers all over Japan can be seen queuing, sometimes for hours, for a “Party Barrel” (the country’s equivalent of a bucket).

During the festive period a party barrel can be sold for the whopping price of 3980 yen (£27.30). It normally includes 8 pieces of chicken on a festive plate, a salad, chocolate cake and a bottle of “Chanmery” (a non-alcoholic champagne-like beverage).

KFC is the second largest fast food chain in the world. It was founded by Harland Sanders, popularly known as "The Colonel" in Kentucky in 1930. It's first franchise opened in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1952.

There are over 23,000 locations in 140 countries around the world.

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