Wednesday, December 24, 2014

How Colonel Sanders became Father Christmas


When it comes to weird Christmas traditions, this takes the cake:
Of all the odd mutations of American culture to be exported abroad, Japan’s KFC Christmas tradition may be one of the oddest. This month, KFC Japan will bring in revenue up to ten times greater than what it earns during other months of the year. Life-size Colonel Sanders statues—a staple in the country—will be dressed in red attire and Santa hats. On Christmas eve, Kentucky Fried Chicken’s lines will snake down the block, and those unlucky enough not to pre-order their special chicken buckets a month in advance may have to go without KFC’s signature blend of 11 herbs and spices.

And not having KFC on Christmas in Japan is a real bummer. In what appears to be one of the most successful fast food marketing campaigns of all time, KFC has for more than thirty years maintained a uniquely on-brand alternate history in Japan, one that makes fried chicken ubiquitous on the day of Jesus’ birth.

“The prevailing wisdom here is that Americans eat chicken on the 25th,” a friend wrote from Tokyo last week. He said he has “blown countless Japanese minds” by suggesting that Western KFCs may even close on Christmas. In Japan, where only a tiny fraction of the population is Christian and the holiday is a secular-slash-commercial affair, yuletide cheer goes hand in hand with a Christmas-branded bucket of chicken—or, as the Japanese call KFC, simply “Kentucky.” ...

If America is oversaturated with fast food empires and too well-acquainted with the Old South’s history to reinterpret it as a fun and exotic myth, in Japan there has been no such problem. There are currently more than 1,200 KFC locations in the country, including an “Adult Kentucky Fried Chicken” bistro serving pasta dishes with beer and “KFC Route 25,” a posh KFC in Tokyo stocked with a full whiskey bar. Not to mention the whole Christmas thing. There’s a countdown to Christmas on KFC Japan’s website and banners celebrating “Kentucky Christmas 2014.”

Funny, isn't it? Not that other countries wouldn't be amused by our reinterpretation of them (American 'Chinese food,' for example). But it's still pretty funny.

Decades ago, when I was in Europe, I was surprised by the Japanese tourists I saw there. To a man (and woman), they looked more American than we Americans do - blue jeans, cameras, etc.  It was like they were all wearing a costume - and a pretty nearly identical costume, at that.

Don't get me wrong; it wasn't because they were Japanese. There are plenty of Japanese-Americans, but they didn't dress like that, even when they wore blue jeans and owned cameras. Japanese-Americans looked American. I'm not sure I can describe the difference, but it was obvious.

I suspect that it was just Japanese fashion at the time, but it certainly seemed weird to me.

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