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Editor’s Word — This story was initially printed on December 24, 2019 and has been up to date with new photos.

(CNN) — Virtually yearly since she was a baby, Hokkaido resident Naomi has regarded ahead to her household’s conventional Christmas meal: a KFC “social gathering barrel” brimming with salad, cake and many fried hen.

“In Japan, it’s customary to eat hen at Christmas,” says the 30-something Japanese lady.

“Yearly, I order the social gathering barrel and revel in it with my household. I just like the scrumptious hen and the lovable image plate that comes with it as a bonus.”

Naomi, who requested solely to be recognized by her first identify, and her household are removed from the one Japanese residents who take pleasure in KFC for Christmas dinner.

Yearly because the mid-Nineteen Eighties, life-size Colonel Sanders statues — dressed as Santa through the vacation — have welcomed droves of locals and vacationers alike throughout the nation.

Based on figures launched by the American fast-food chain, KFC Japan pulled in 6.9 billion yen (roughly US$63 million) from December 20 to 25 in 2018, with traces out the door beginning on December 23.

KFC Japan’s busiest day is often December 24, on which they often promote about 5 to 10 occasions greater than typical days.

“As Christmas approaches, KFC commercials play on TV — they appear very scrumptious. We order early then go to the shop on the designated time to choose up our bucket,” says Naomi.

“Those that do not reserve a bucket see themselves in lengthy queues for hours.”

‘KFC was all over the place’

To higher perceive how and why fried hen turned synonymous with Christmas in Japan, we have now to rewind a couple of many years.

Following a interval of austerity following World Warfare II within the Nineteen Forties and ’50s, Japan’s economic system began taking off.

“Japan’s financial energy was going via the roof … and folks had the money to take pleasure in client tradition for the primary time,” says Ted Bestor, a professor of Social Anthropology at Harvard College who has studied Japanese meals and tradition for the previous 50 years.

“For the reason that US was a cultural powerhouse on the time, there was large curiosity in Western style, meals, journeys abroad — Japan was actually opening up.”

Whereas residing within the middle of Tokyo within the early Nineteen Seventies, Bestor remembers seeing many overseas franchises popping up, corresponding to Baskin-Robbins, Mister Donut and The Unique Pancake Home.

Throughout this era of fast globalization, Japan’s fast-food business expanded 600% between 1970 and 1980, in line with “Colonel Involves Japan,” a 1981 documentary directed by John Nathan.

KFC — then often known as Kentucky Fried Rooster — was a part of the pack, opening its first Japan outlet in Nagoya in 1970.

By 1981, the chain had opened 324 shops — over 30 a 12 months — and made roughly US$200 million per 12 months, in line with the documentary.

“It appeared like, all of a sudden, Kentucky Fried Rooster was all over the place,” remembers Bestor.

Kentucky for Christmas

Christmas was, and nonetheless is, a secular vacation in Japan — a rustic the place lower than 1% of the inhabitants identifies as Christian — and within the Nineteen Seventies many individuals did not have established household Christmas traditions.

That is the place KFC got here in. The corporate launched its “Kentucky for Christmas” advertising and marketing marketing campaign in 1974 and the primary iteration of the social gathering buckets quickly adopted.

A statue of Colonel Sanders in a Santa outfit on December 23, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.

A statue of Colonel Sanders in a Santa outfit on December 23, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.

Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Photographs

Some experiences say that Takeshi Okawara, who managed the nation’s first KFC and later turned CEO of KFC Japan, falsely marketed fried hen as a standard American Christmas meals to drum up gross sales.

However in line with KFC Japan, Okawara went to a Christmas social gathering dressed as Santa. When the youngsters beloved it, he noticed a enterprise alternative.

In the meantime, in 2017, the host of “The Rising Solar Present” — a 30-minute TV present produced by the U.S. Military Garrison Japan Public Affairs — interviewed a KFC meister, who mentioned the idea caught on after a overseas buyer requested KFC to ship fried hen in a Santa Claus costume on Christmas.

Different sources say Okawara merely overheard westerners in search of a alternative for turkey and thought up a worthy substitute.

Conflicting origin tales apart, KFC managed to seize the creativeness of Japanese diners and create a nationwide phenomenon.

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Catchy Christmas advertising and marketing

People queue in front of a KFC restaurant on December 23, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.

Folks queue in entrance of a KFC restaurant on December 23, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.

Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Photographs

After all, “Kentucky for Christmas” did not catch on with no substantial promoting funding.

A typical KFC Christmas advert from the Nineteen Seventies or ’80s possible would have showcased a household having fun with a luscious feast of golden, fried hen because the music “My Previous Kentucky Dwelling” performed within the background.

“For anyone who grew up in America, you instantly knew that ‘My Previous Kentucky Dwelling’ is just not a Christmas carol,” says Bestor.

“However [these were] actually fantastically completed campaigns that linked fried hen with Christmas in addition to Christmas with the concept of consuming luxurious meals. Clearly, the concept took maintain.”

Such advertisements positioned KFC as a sublime, genuine approach to have fun in true American type, even when that wasn’t fairly true to actuality.

“The festive commercials are what initially made me wish to attempt to eat KFC for Christmas,” Shuho Inazumi, a librarian who lives in Iwakuni on Honshu island, tells CNN Journey. “I am from the countryside and there weren’t too many KFCs round, so KFC was thought of cool.”

Acquainted flavors

However to chalk up such lasting success solely to sensible promoting would not be completely honest — it may also be attributed to KFC’s compatibility with current cultural norms.

For example, Bestor says KFC is much like a preferred conventional Japanese dish referred to as karaage, which includes small items of panko-breaded, deep-fried meats like hen or fish.

“When it comes to taste profiles, Kentucky Fried Rooster is just not a stretch — it isn’t a brand new style or one thing that individuals need to get accustomed to,” he says.

Likewise, the custom of sharing a giant “social gathering barrel” of fried hen, coleslaw and cake suits neatly into Japanese eating tradition.

“With the ability to share meals is a crucial social follow in Japan. So a bucket of fried hen each tastes acquainted and fulfills this need to eat collectively,” he provides.

However whereas the corporate’s Christmas packs and social gathering barrels stay wildly fashionable, some Japanese individuals have shaped new traditions over time.

“After I used to purchase KFC Christmas, there weren’t quite a lot of vacation meals choices,” says Inazumi.

“Now I can discover recipes for roast beef, ham, and roasted hen on-line, go to a potluck with pals, or go to a Christmas buffet at a lodge.”

For Naomi, it isn’t a convention she plans to surrender anytime quickly.

“I’ve no kids now,” she says. “However it is a custom [my family] hopes to proceed sooner or later.”

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