Christmas in Japan: chicken eclipses turkey

KFC Japon

Modern Santa may drink Coke, but for the Japanese, he also eats KFC! Discover today the strange tradition of a 100% KFC Christmas meal in Japan.

Winter has put on its big white coat, Santa is checking his checklist to make sure he hasn’t forgotten anything, fir trees are shining brightly in the cottages, families have gathered… Christmas Eve can finally begin.

Foie gras, gingerbread, scallops, turkey with chestnuts, gratin dauphinois and, of course, the famous and exquisite Yule log can all be found on tables in the major European countries.

It’s a different time of year in Japan. As you stroll through the streets, you admire the dazzling decorations that adorn the big cities, but you’re also amazed at the number of Japanese people waiting outside the KFC.

Today, Generation Voyage invites you to discover the history of a recent tradition in a country that cannot escape the Americanization of its society.

Americans long before KFC

A story of War…

A festive event par excellence, the story that accompanies it in Japan is not necessarily so joyous and cheerful. Indeed, the tradition of KFC in Japan is first and foremost a matter of war.

On December 7, 1941, against the backdrop of the World War, Japan provoked the United States in the famous « Pearl Harbor attack », forcing the Americans to take part in the conflict.

Deeply wounded by this attack, the USA retaliated four years later, and not in the most peaceful way. They dropped two atomic bombs on the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan could not recover from this affront and, short of food, ammunition and men, surrendered.

Template Japon Nagasaki et Pearl Harbor

Nagasaki & Pearl Harbor attack Photo credit: Shutterstock: Everett Collection

On September 2, 1945, this event officially marked the end of the Second World War. However, the Japanese were not finished with the Americans.

Indeed, the victorious nations of the Second World War do not wish to repeat the mistakes of the past that led to the rise of fascism in Europe and another international conflict.

So the Allies opted for a different strategy: to help rebuild Japan andGermany by staying on for a while. This is how General MacArthur, appointed by American President Harry Truman, found himself in charge of Japan during the « occupation ». A decisive turning point in Japanese history, it marked the beginning of the Americanization of society.

Hamburger VS Sushi

Hamburger & Sushi – Photo credit: Shutterstock – Alexandr Popel & Bal Iryna

So it’s mainly through G.I.s, the soldiers of the US Army, that the big American brands and firms are gradually landing on the archipelago. Gone are the days of samurai and sushi! From now on, Japanese children play soldiers, drink Pepsi, listen to US rock and eat hamburgers! The American occupation of Japan ended in 1952 with the signing of the Treaty of San Francisco, but American influence remained and prospered.

…and fried chicken

It was only twenty years after the end of the occupation that KFC(Kentucky Fried Chicken), the famous American fast-food chain, set up shop in the Land of the Rising Sun. By the early 70s, theAmerican way of life was already well established on the archipelago. Several American chains were already present, and were an integral part of Japanese daily life.

And it was against this backdrop that, in 1974, KFC pulled off a masterstroke never before equalled!

Japon KFC Noel

KFC in Japan at Christmas Photo credit: Shutterstock – image_vulture & Quality Stock Arts

Indeed, after hearing several Christian expatriates complain about having to celebrate Christmas without chicken or turkey, Takeshi Okawara, KFC’s first manager in the country, reacted. A brilliant idea crossed his mind: to offer a « festive bucket », to be sold as a Christmas Eve meal.

With turkey in short supply in Japan, Okawara decided to replace it with fried chicken. KFC completes its stroke of genius with a national advertising campaign entitled Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii: « Kentucky for Christmas », and it’s done!

The fast-food chain itself created a movement that would become a veritable tradition: the 100% KFC Christmas meal!

The origin of fried chicken

Takeshi Okawara’s idea of offering fried chicken on New Year’s Eve came to him… in a dream!

Christmas in Japan

Illumination de Noel au Japon

Christmas lights in Tokyo Photo credit: Shutterstock – Patryk Kosmider

From then on, the fast-food chain established itself rapidly throughout the country. A masterstroke whose success can be explained by a tradition hitherto unknown in Japan… Indeed, the Japanese don’t celebrate the birth of Christ on New Year’s Eve for the simple reason that only 2 or 3% of the population is Christian.

And yet, they have all the hallmarks of a Western Christmas: a market with mulled wine, decorations in the streets, carols… All the ingredients are there to recreate the magic of the season. Are they all? No. For while the family dimension of Christmas is very much in evidence in the West, it is not at all so for the Japanese. For them, Christmas Eve is a time to celebrate with friends. It’s also a time to declare your love for your sweetheart… And to eat a good KFC!

KFC for lovers

For the Japanese, inviting your loved one to share a KFC on Christmas Eve is synonymous with high class and much appreciated. A bucket warms the heart!

KFC a noel au Japon

KFC Fried Chicken & Colonel Sanders as Santa Claus – Photo credit: Shutterstock – Robson90 & image_vulture

In fact, according to the BBC, « 3.6 million Japanese families eat this fast-food restaurant on New Year’s Eve ». KFC multiplies its sales by 5 or 10 during this period, with total sales of several tens of millions of euros between December 23 and 25. For the Japanese, eating KFC at Christmas is a veritable institution. Some order their menu months in advance, while others are prepared to wait 4 hours for their favorite fast-food restaurant on Christmas Eve.

To kick sales up a notch and further entrench tradition, KFC has diversified its Christmas menus by marketing increasingly elaborate dishes. In addition to the inevitable Christmas Chicken (which is not on the menu the rest of the year), the Japanese can complete their menu with champagne, salad and the famous Kurisumasu kēki, a Japanese Christmas cake made from sponge cake covered with a layer of whipped cream or chocolate… All for 3,336 yen (around 30 euros). Other menus are also available, such as the Christmas Box 100% Chicken.

Christmas Cake Japonais

Kurisumasu kēki, Japanese cake Photo credit: Shutterstock – sasaken

Other American chains are trying to compete with KFC, albeit without too much success, by offering alternatives to fried chicken. Wendy’s, for example, has been selling its foie gras and truffle burger for 1,280 yen (just over 11 euros) since 2011. Despite these attempts, KFC remains the undisputed leader when it comes to New Year’s Eve.

If you can’t make it to Mount Fuji this December 24, head to your nearest KFC and enjoy a 100% Japanese Christmas!

Recipe and preparation of chicken karaage

After making you salivate throughout this article, Generation Voyage honors the land of the Rising Sun with a recipe for fried chicken… but be careful, it’s an Asian version! Here’s the recipe for chicken karaage.

Poulet Kaarage

Photo credit: Shutterstock – gontabunta

The ingredients

  • 300g boneless chicken
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cooking sake
  • 5g chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 60 ml katakuriko potato starch (to coat the chicken) ;
  • Frying oil
  • Japanese mayonnaise(kewpie)
  • Lemon wedges

The stages

  • Cut the chicken into small pieces (leave the skin on for extra crispiness).
  • In a bowl, mix the ginger with the garlic, soy sauce and cooking sake. Add the chicken, coat well and marinate for 30 minutes.
  • Drain off any excess liquid and add the katakuriko. Mix until the chicken is completely coated.
  • Heat the oil in a frying pan until it reaches a temperature of around 180°C. Test the temperature by putting a little flour into the oil: if it sizzles as it falls, the oil is hot enough. Fry 3 or 4 pieces at a time, until golden brown. When ready, remove from the pan and leave to dry on a wire rack.
  • Serve hot or cold, with a few lemon wedges and a drizzle of Japanese mayonnaise.