When I first came to Japan, I was told that Kentucky Fried Chicken, or simply ‘Kentucky’ as it’s known in Japan, is a Christmas tradition. I was told that people flock to KFC for their annual Christmas Eve dinner. I didn’t really take it seriously until I saw people lining up for three blocks one Christmas Eve, just to get their dose of chicken!
Although it exists, turkey isn’t common in Japan, and it certainly isn’t associated with Christmas. Colonel Saunders and his massive advertising campaigns have embedded “KFC = Christmas” into the minds of most naive Japanese. I say ‘naive’ because Christmas in Japan is purely commerical with no religious strings attached. Therefore everything the Japanese understand about Christmas has been fed to them through TV, radio and magazines, including commercials for chicken.
Maybe it’s because Colonel Saunders bears a resemblance to Santa Claus himself, and his statue outside every KFC is wearing a Santa suit. Or maybe the American occupation after the war is the reason for KFC’s success, that is assuming the Americans all ate chicken at Christmas due to the lack of turkey. I really have no idea… and neither do the Japanese.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:
KFC is so prevalent in Japan that many Japanese unknowingly consider it to be a Japanese Company. On Christmas day many families (who have made reservations weeks in advance), have their traditional Christmas dinner at KFC. Colonel Sanders has become somewhat of a cult figure in Japan. Not only is there a life-sized statue of the Colonel in front of every KFC, but his memorabilia like wind-up toys and figurines can be found at many toy stores throughout Japan.
Japanese baseball team Hanshin Tigers is thought to be under the Curse of the Colonel, a curse coming from when an enthusiastic fan threw a store-front statue of Colonel Sanders into a local canal during a celebration for the Tigers victory in the 1985 Japan Series. The curse says that the Tigers will not win again until the statue is recovered.
I thought that comment about the Hanshin Tigers was worth looking into elsewhere on the web and this is what I found on this Hanshin Tigers page:
The year 1985 is still fondly remembered by all Hanshin fans. Not only did the club win the Japan Series for the first (and so far only) time, but their first baseman Randy Bass won the Triple Crown award AND the Japan Series MVP award as well – in the process elevating himself to God-like status in the Kansai region.
When the Hanshin Tigers won the Japan Series in 1985, the fans went delirious. Among other things, they hijacked a train in Tokyo, and at Dotonbori, one of the entertainment districts in Osaka, people were jumping into the polluted river. The story goes that as the crowd yelled their way through the Hanshin roster, someone who looked like each of the players jumped into the river.
Apparently nobody looked like Randy Bass, so some bright spark thought the life-sized statue of Colonel Sanders outside the local KFC would do. Well, he had a beard, he wasn’t Japanese…
Anyway, you can guess the rest – Colonel Sanders found himself at the bottom of the river.
The whereabouts of the Colonel remain a mystery to this day. They’ve even had divers down in the murky depths trying to find him, but to no avail. It is said that the Hanshin Tigers will never win again until he is found.
That page goes on to say the Tigers finally won the Central League pennant in 2003 but failed to win the Japan Series, so the curse supposedly continues.
As for Colonel Santa, erm, I mean Saunders, I guess I’ll be seeing him on Christmas Eve if I can reserve my chicken.
What’s that Mami? You’re kidding!? KFC is already fully booked?!
I guess we’ll be eating McDonald’s chicken nuggets for Christmas this year….If you like, you can find me on Twitter at @nick_ramsay. I'd love to hear from you!