Christmas in Japan is a relatively new phenomenon, and it is celebrated with the traditions of a romantic date, a strawberry cake, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. It's traditional. KFC for Christmas seems weird to us, but it's been that way since the 1970s, and the chain makes a big chunk of its yearly sales during Christmas. The company has long explained it as American expats looking for a substitute for turkey for the holiday, but we assumed that they just told Japanese customers that fried chicken was a traditional American Christmas food. But it turns out that it wasn't the company that did it. It wasn't even an American. It was a franchisee named Takeshi Okawara, who opened Japan's first KFC outlet. His store in Nagoya didn't go over well, and Okawara had to take side jobs, like playing Santa Claus. It was that job that inspired the lie.
Okawara promoted fried chicken as a substitute for traditional Christmas turkey, which the Japanese knew from TV and cinema was eaten for Christmas throughout the West. Selling chicken and sides together in Christmas-themed “Party Barrels” and decorating his store’s Colonel Sanders statue as Santa-san brought in enough customers to save his business.
With word of the Christmas “Party Barrels” making their way across Japan, the national broadcaster NHK interviewed Okawara about his role in bringing the Colonel to Japan and asked if KFC for Christmas was a common custom overseas. Unable to turn down such a glaring opportunity, the young entrepreneur said yes. “I still regret that, but people liked it because it was something good [they thought came] from the U.S. or European countries,” he told Household Name.
Read the story of how Christmas in Japan came to include Kentucky Fried Chicken at Atlas Obscura.