KFC for Christmas? How a fast-food chain became a holiday hit in Japan

Kentucky Fried Chicken became a huge hit in Japan during the Christmas season, with lines around the corner and huge sales. Japanese YouTuber Yoko Ishii gave Fox News a look at how the fast food chain has become a holiday phenomenon over the past 50 years.

KFC Japan notes this highest annual sales Figures in the run-up to Christmas are the chain’s “busiest day of the year – 10 times KFC Japan’s annual average” on December 24, according to the company’s website. According to Ishi, both she and her husband personally witnessed the large lines in their hometown of Fukuoka.



“I was on my way home and I saw KFC in the big one [train] I saw a nearby station and I saw a line,” Ishii told Fox News. “I was like, ‘What’s going on?’

“I realized they were in line for Christmas in Kentucky,” he said.

US-based restaurant chain KFC began operations in Japan in 1970, and launched its first Christmas-themed marketing campaign there four years later.

A statue of KFC’s Colonel Sanders dressed as Santa is seen in Tokyo, Japan on December 23, 2020.
(Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images)

Ishii said he became familiar with the Kentucky Christmas slogan because he heard it advertised on television. The origins of the campaign go back to an unidentified foreigner who visited a KFC restaurant in Tokyo on Christmas Day in the early 1970s. According to the KFC website.

“I can’t get turkey in Japan, so I have no choice but to celebrate Christmas with Kentucky Fried Chicken,” according to KFC’s account. “A member of the KFC Japan sales team heard the word and used it as inspiration to launch the first Christmas campaign and its tagline – Kentucky for Christmas.”

Christmas Dinner: Turkey Thighs with STUFFING, Roasted Potatoes, etc

KFC Japan’s first Christmas dinner consisted of a bucket known as a “barrel” in Japanese, consisting of fried chicken and a bottle of wine, along with an invitation to enjoy the meal on the eve of the holiday, according to KFC’s website.

Since then, the annual Christmas food drive has expanded. Many Japanese people place their Christmas orders with KFC months in advance, as the lines at the restaurants often spill out onto the city streets during the actual holiday.

People line up outside KFC on December 23, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.

People line up outside KFC on December 23, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.
(Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images)

According to Shared Research, KFC Japan earned about 7.1 billion yen (about $53 million in current US dollars) in 2019.

Many Japanese accept the commercial aspects of Christmas, even though only 1% of the population is Christian. According to Ishii, the willingness of Japanese people to incorporate foreign holidays into their lives has led to Kentucky’s Christmas success.

“I think we’re happy people celebrating everything,” he told Fox News.

To learn more about how KFC created its Christmas marketing campaign in Japan, Click here.

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