Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan but many Japanese celebrate the 25th with a special meal: fried chicken – specifically, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Colonel Sander’s chicken is considered a Christmas tradition there. The fast-food chain is so popular long lines form outside Japanese stores. Akiko Fujita reports.
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MARCO WERMAN: Nothing says Christmas like a decorated tree, a visit from Santa, and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, at least that’s what a great many Japanese think. Akiko Fujita sent us this report from Tokyo about a finger licking good Christmas tradition.
AKIKO FUJITA: KFC commercials signal the start of the Christmas season in Japan. This ad features young kids wearing Santa hats, and reindeer antlers. They dance around holding those KFC chicken buckets, and they remind viewers to get their Christmas reservations in early. That’s right, in Japan, KFC takes Christmas reservations for takeout. Company spokeswoman Sumeo Yokokawa says there’s a good reason for that. She says the scene outside KFC chains used to look like Disney Land during the holidays. Long lines wrapped around the store with customers waiting two hours. We take reservations to avoid that. It wasn’t always that way. When KFC opened its first door in Japan nearly 40 years ago, fried chicken was considered a foreign food. Yokokawa says sells were dismal, but Americans would come in to eat during the holidays because they couldn’t find turkey in Japan.
A KFC employee saw an opportunity to cash in, and the company launched its first Christmas meal in 1974, fried chicken, and wine for about $10, a hefty price at the time. Yokokawa says this special meal was introduced around the time that people in Japan began celebrating a Christmas holiday with specially decorated Christmas cakes, but they didn’t have a Christmas meal. KFC filled that void. KFC says these days their business jumps tenfold on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Yokokawa says stores set a company record in Japan for holiday sales last year. So this year, KFC began taking reservations in October, a month earlier than usual. Customer Akiko Toyoda says Christmas equals Christmas cake and fried chicken. That combination seems to equal KFC.
But KFC has some competition. Convenience stores now sell fried chicken year round, while more upscale restaurants offer their own Christmas dinners to attract couples looking for a romantic night out. KFC’s countered by introducing a Christmas party barrel for two. A few years ago, it started selling roast chicken, so customers who didn’t reserve fried chicken in time wouldn’t go home empty handed. For the World, I’m Akiko Fujita in Tokyo.
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