Holidays and Celebrations

Did you know that Christmas in Japan includes a KFC dinner?

KFC dominates the season, with 3.6 million families in Japan making advance reservations for bespoke Christmas chicken.

Did you know that Christmas in Japan includes a KFC dinner?
Photo: KFC menu in Japan.
Scripps News
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It's Christmas, but not as you know it.

Since World War II, Japan has embraced the typically Western holiday and made it its own.

There's Santa, trees, and presents, but on the Christmas lunch table is KFC.

Over the last half decade, fried chicken, specifically Kentucky Fried Chicken, has emerged as Japan's Christmas meat.

Every year, more than three-and-a-half million families order fried chicken for Christmas lunch.

It started in the early 1970s, when KFC was still new in Japan.

It began marketing chicken as the country's Christmas meat with the catchphrase “Christmas is Kentucky.”

Every Christmas Day, people queue down the street outside KFCs like this one to pick up their Christmas packs. They usually include a whole chocolate fudge cake, a commemorative plate featuring Colonel Sanders as Santa, and, of course, made-to-order fried chicken.

It's even on the menu at vegan chef Tatsuya Miyauchi's downtown Tokyo restaurant.

Except he's swapped the meat for maitake mushrooms.

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“Christmas is chicken. And everyone, whether vegan or not, would like to enjoy Christmas. In my restaurant, our customers can come, participate in sustainability, eat 'fried chicken' even though it's made from mushrooms, and celebrate Christmas,” said Miyauchi.

Christmas might otherwise look familiar in Japan.

Some treats have been adapted: Japan eats "Kurisumasu ke-kii," a white sponge cake with cream and strawberries.

And then there are new aspects, unique only to Japan.

“In popular culture, there's this trope where it's more of a date night. It tends to be a romantic opportunity for couples to get a posh table in a fancy restaurant and go out for the evening. Mistletoe often comes to mind in the west, but in Japan it's really a holiday for eating fried chicken,” said Dr. Matthew Chozick of the Department of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan.

No matter what you eat, Japan has embraced Christmas, an imported holiday that has thrived and gained millions of new revelers in an entirely new culture.