Yes, you read the title correctly. Kentucky Fried Chicken, KFC, is found on dining room tables across Japan every Christmas as a highlight of the holiday meal.
Regular old fried chicken. You can order a special holiday set but just getting the box of fried chicken is enough for the festivities. But why? Why on earth would Japan care about crappy American fried chicken (seriously, there is so much better out there) for Christmas? The country itself isn’t even into Christmas for the religious factor as only a small percentage identify as Christian, but commercialized decorations, holiday sales, Christmas cakes, and more will be found pretty much everywhere in the month or so leading up to the December 25 holiday.
The modern KFC franchises that we know around the world started in the 1950s and expanded rapidly, not just across the United States but also internationally over the next few decades. The first locations in Japan opened in 1970 and immediately looked for ways to appeal to Japanese customers. The idea to promote the fried chicken as a substitute for turkey was born, and showcasing KFC as a part of Western and American Christmas was shared throughout the country. At one point, television advertisements were released showing a “traditional American Christmas” featuring KFC prominently on the American family’s dinner table. Between making this a way to experience the “Western Christmas aspect” and creating a fun tradition on their own, KFC became booming business for the Christmas holiday in Japan.
Nowadays, you have to reserve your Christmas chicken order weeks in advance or be prepared to stand in line for hours in hopes of getting an order of fried chicken to bring to a holiday meal. When I got to experience this, a Japanese friend of mine wasn’t able to make the reservation as they said they were all sold out but she was lucky enough to grab a small box when she stood in line on Christmas day. She had to go to a few different locations but managed to grab a box- it still seems so crazy to me to have to go through this effort to get KFC but apparently this is the #1 thing besides the strawberry Christmas cake that people want to have for their Christmas feast in Japan.
As for the fried chicken itself, it’s just regular fried chicken. If you have had it in the USA or any other country, it’s all just the same. Christmastime fried chicken isn’t anything new or different or whatever you might be expecting. Even as a reminder of home at the holidays it was still meh, because that isn’t something that I have ever had on a holiday back home. But watching the hoopla around all of it (a lot of locations even had statues of Colonel Sanders wearing a Santa costume) was pretty entertaining, and felt a lot more like experiencing Japanese culture rather than sharing my own with their country. Pretty interesting how that can work out!