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Asia Minute: How KFC Conquered Christmas in Japan

akaitori / Flickr
akaitori / Flickr

The holiday season brings its own traditions in many places, and a lot of them are related to food. In Hawai‘i, many look for ‘ahi in the New Year, while other treats of various kinds are part of celebrations.  In Japan, there’s been a more recent food tradition that started in the 1970’s—and has a new twist this year. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

43 years ago, Kentucky Fried Chicken seized control of Christmas in Japan.

Historically, Christmas was never a big deal there—Buddhist, Shinto and other cultural traditions focus on the New Year.

But in 1974, Kentucky Fried Chicken launched an ad campaign urging people to enjoy “Kentucky for Christmas!” A bit of fabricated history and a lot of marketing suggested that a barrel of chicken was a Christmas tradition.

Today, that’s morphed into the Christmas “Chicken Box”—complete with a picture of Colonel Sanders in a Santa hat.

The BBC quotes company figures saying an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families now go to KFC over the Christmas season. An internet search for “Kentucky Fried Chicken Christmas Japan” turns up more than half a million items in less than a second.

This year, there are a couple of twists.

If you want your bathwater to smell like fried chicken, thanks to KFC Japan and a retail partner you can get a fried chicken scented bath bomb.

And if you want to go in the other direction, you can now get a fried chicken set that does not smell like fried chicken or anything else. The website SoraNews 24 reports a KFC at Shinjuku station in Tokyo offers a fried chicken meal that is odorless.

The target demographic: train commuters—so they can eat fried chicken but not annoy their neighbors.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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