Japan’s finger-lickin’ Christmas tradition
December 22nd, 2011
10:00 AM ET
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Christmas is often a time for heavy eating and drinking, and the Japanese don't miss out.

But unlike many other countries where there are traditional Christmas dishes, Japan does not have any, and a quick look at a regular family's Christmas feast shows that anything, from sushi to chinese steamed shrimps, are acceptable at the buffet.

However, there is one specialty that many Japanese like to have on the table next to those items – fried chicken from KFC.

Today, it is possibly the closest thing in Japan to a Christmas tradition.

The story goes that in the early 1970s, a western man residing in Japan decided to get KFC's fried chicken for Christmas, the closest substitute to his childhood turkey he could find at that time.

This one customer must have made quite an impression because the following year KFC Japan started a country-wide Christmas campaign, which since then has tied it to the Christmas culture of Japan.

No other company had thus influenced the public's Christmas habits since cake-maker Fujiya brought in the “Christmas Cake” in the 1920s. But while Fujiya's cakes had to be made to match Japanese sensibilities, KFC's chickens are exactly the same as how Colonel Sanders imagined them. And the Japanese just dig it.

Every year in early December, KFC restaurants around the country start putting up order sheets to deal with the heavy demands during the Christmas period. Numbers show that their sales soar in December, making twice as much profit than in other months.

It has become so common today to eat fried chicken at Christmas, that other franchises have tried to jump on the Christmas fried chicken band-wagon. Yet KFC remains by far the most popular andthe company’s public relations' representative Ichiro Takatsuki says that the last year or two have been their most successful in the past 15 years. Today, KFC has 1150 restaurants across Japan.

So, what's the secret ingredient to KFC’s success?

For one, they watch how family compositions are changing. In the 1970s, the eight-piece Christmas bucket for four people was the most popular. But today, families have become smaller and Christmas has become an event to spend with your significant other, rather than with the family. So KFC started selling a two-person set last year which proved to be a hit.

They often add new specialties to their menu, too. Their Premium Roasted Chicken menu, which started a few years ago at a whopping price of almost $75, sells out every year without even having to be heavily promoted.

Actually, Takatsuki claimed that the lack of promotion is also key to their success. As each restaurant deals with raw stocks, there is a limit to the number of meals they can produce per day, even at Christmas. While it helps maintain the quality of their products, they are careful to never over-promote Christmas, for fear of disappointing customers.

“Imagine if people came because they saw a commercial on TV, only to find out that we're sold out?” Takatsuki asked. “That would be disastrous.”

So because of its success, Japan's KFC waits to start its Christmas promotion until as late as possible, only to pull most of it off before everyone gets too excited.

How about that for a measure of popularity?

See all our Japan Eats coverage and get more on CNNGo and read McDonald's vs. KFC for Japan's best 'festive feast'

Is there a food that makes the holidays bright in your home? We want to hear all about it. Immortalize your food tradition in words, recipes, pictures or video, submit it as an iReport and we'll show off some of our favorites on CNN's Eatocracy food blog through the end of the holiday season.

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Filed under: Asian • Bite • Christmas • Cuisines • Fast Food • Feature • It's not the holidays without • Japan • Japan Eats • Japanese • KFC

soundoff (124 Responses)
  1. Niel Cohen

    Im impressed, I have to admit. Seldom do I encounter a blog thats both equally educative and interesting, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is something not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. I'm very happy I found this during my hunt for something concerning this.


    June 21, 2014 at 11:55 pm |
  2. William Tate

    I needed to thank you for this very good read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it. I have you saved as a favorite to check out new things you post


    June 21, 2014 at 11:48 pm |
  3. Zimmy


    January 3, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  4. B. Barnett

    Congratulations Japan!!!! Santa is bringing you Type 2 diabetes for Christmas!

    December 24, 2011 at 1:35 am |
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