Christmas in Japan is something special to me as my first trip to Japan was Christmas of 2017. I remember wandering around Tokyo, surrounding by Christmas lights and meeting Colonel Sanders. Wait, Colonel Sanders? Yes, the founder of one of most known fast-food chains in the world. So how does KFC fit into the festival Christmas season of the neon wonderland? Well sit down as I am about to tell you a secret recipe of how a Christian celebration lead to a romantic holiday.
Valentine’s Day 3.0
How is Christmas a romantic holiday? Well in the UK, USA and most of the world, it is traditionally celebrated as a holiday for families to get merry and swap gifts. And from a Christianity viewpoint, it is a festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. But why is it different in Japan? Well the first key thing is Japan's national religion is Shinto, with Buddhism being only a few steps behind it. Only about 1.5% of the Japanese population claim to be Christians. So it would make sense for them not to celebrate Christmas at all. But when there is money to be made, then why not utilise the chance to make some pennies. So where does the romantic component come into this? Well during Japanese bubble economy where real estate and stock market prices in 1986 to 1991 were greatly inflated, there was influx of love songs during Christmas time. A lot of those songs are still quite popular to this day. But to throw a spanner in the works, Christmas day isn't important part of Christmas for the Japanese, the key day is Christmas Eve. In the UK, Christmas Eve is about doing all your food shopping, getting the turkey ready and leave a snack out for Santa and his reindeer. But in Japan, normally couples would go a date like book a fancy restaurant for the evening and exchange presents between each other. The other key thing is the New Year’s holiday is the time families traditionally come together instead of Christmas Day. But Christmas day is still celebrated in one form or another.
Chicken over turkey
What makes a good Christmas day with family? FOOD! No matter where you are in the world, food is a major part of the Christmas celebrations and Japan isn't slacking on it either. So what weird thing does the land of weird and wacky do for Christmas food? Well one of the "weird" things that Japan is known for is KFC for Christmas. As I asked earlier in the blog, how does KFC fit into the festival Christmas season of the neon wonderland? Well it originally came about when in 1970, Takeshi Okawara, the manager of the first KFC in the country overheard some foreigners talking about how they missed having turkey for Christmas and later had a dream about a party barrel that could replace turkey on Christmas Day.
It wasn't until 1974 when KFC took the idea of Takeshi Okawara's party bucket and advertised it nationally by the name of "Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii" (Kentucky for Christmas). This advertising lead to more than the phenomenon of KFC for Christmas, it also lead to Takeshi Okawara becoming the president and CEO of KFC Japan from 1984 to 2002. So why did it work? The usual answer you find is because Japan didn't celebrate Christmas, KFC gave them a tradition to celebrate at Christmas. But surely since Japan has been able to import and export, they could replace KFC with a turkey. So why haven't they? Well they don't have ovens. Japanese apartments are really small, they are so small that they are too small to have ovens. Plus importing things into Japan is quite expensive and hard to do so it explains why turkeys haven't replaced the tradition. Millions of Japanese people celebrate Christmas with KFC so what is so special about it? Well if you told me that you had gone to a KFC somewhere in the UK on Christmas Day and got a bucket of chicken to celebrate Christmas like the Japanese, I would give you a confused look and say you were mad. Because Christmas KFC isn't your bog standard 32 pieces bucket, it is a banquet involving chicken, cake, wine, etc. But a banquet of this degree comes at a high demand, the demand is so big that you have to order them around November time if not earlier. But let's talk money here, how important are these packages? Well on average, they equal about a third of annual sales of KFC Japan.
Anyone for a slice of Christmas cake?
So now you have finished your chicken, time for dessert! Who doesn't like cake? Christmas cake is one of the key desserts for me at Christmas time and Japan also had Christmas cake too but as usual there is a twist to it too. Instead of the typical heavy fruit cake covered in icing, it is a sponge cake, frosted with whipped cream. Normally it is decorated with strawberries, and topped with Christmas chocolates or other seasonal fruits. It came about because of after world war 2, two key things were brought to Japan. Sugar and "Three Sacred Treasures" (refrigerators, black-and-white TVs and washing machines). The American influence from the war lead to the Japanese population wanting to adopt the American life style. But how did all of that ended up producing Christmas cake? Well refrigerators allowed for things like whipped cream and fresh food like strawberries to be kept for longer periods of time. But the key part was sugar as it isn't a natural resource in Japan, it became a "treat" for special occasions. On top of that, Japanese chefs at the time, didn't like the look of western Christmas cakes, so a nice looking, sugary cake was a prefect treat for Christmas to replace the traditional western Christmas cake.
Ultimately, this has been a short and quick blog post. But it is a fun topic that was suitable for the Christmas season. To sum this blog up, Japanese Christmas traditions are western traditions like turkeys with a Japanese twist on them to fit the target market.
So, it is time to say a big thank you to everyone reading this week's blog. In terms of next week, I am planning to release the first new and upcoming Q&A blog as I am currently in isolation after arriving in Tokyo. I know this might be a bit annoying but here is the link to the google form for my Q&A blog: https://forms.gle/nbhG8HMW9JQSQVeR9 So, until next week, arigatou gozaimasu and sayōnara!