Japan’s Fried Chicken Christmas
Author: Jeanne Ebendinger and Jeweliann Houlette
My memories of Christmas are rooted in family. Growing up in France, Christmas Eve was spent preparing food with my mother during the day and gathering with my family during the evening. We exchanged presents and listened to our parents tell us stories about Christmas when they were children, and of course, enjoyed delicious food together. Older generations, more religious than mine, would usually attend the midnight Mass on the 24th and the morning one on the 25th. Although drifting perhaps from its original religious roots now, Christmas is still an important family holiday in France.
Imagine my surprise when I came to Japan and experienced the oddly couple-centric focus of Christmas in this country. “What about gathering as a family? And what do single people do?” I immediately wondered. Hundreds of Christmas lights were installed around the city, creating a romantic backdrop that many couples enjoyed together. As a single person, it was hard to be enthusiastic about the sappy mood, but I found respite in enjoying the Christmas lights with my friends. Regardless of relationship status, I found these Christmas lights that transformed the nightscape in Japan, to be beautiful.
The emphasis on romantic love wasn’t the only jarring thing about Christmas in my new country of residence. I soon learned about the so called “KFC tradition” for Christmas. Started in 1974 when Takeshi Okawara, the first KFC manager in Japan, got the idea of promoting fried chicken as a Christmas dinner, the trend grew throughout the decades and is now firmly established as part of the Japanese Christmas experience. Hoping to recreate the Western traditions of gathering families around a turkey or ham, Okawara found a new way to bring Japanese people together and create a sense of family gathering during this holiday — albeit through fast food!
The Japanese Christmas is a far-cry from my experience growing up enjoying the Christmas markets and good cuisine of my home country. I also recognize though, that in spite of all its quirks, in the form of fried-chicken marketing gimmicks and a Valentine’s Day-like mood, Christmas in Japan, like in France, celebrates the warmth of human connection.