On Christmas Eve, Keizo Ido, 39, went out on a hunt that many Japanese might be familiar with. No, he wasn’t out looking for that perfect piece of jewelry for his wife or a fun toy for his son.
Nor was he out looking for the latest video games or some of the deals available around the holidays in Osaka’s downtown core.
Rather, he was looking for something a bit more savoury, something a bit more deep fried than your typical gift. After visiting 10 different stores around his neighbourhood and being told 10 times they were all sold out, he gave up.
“I’m sorry, we are already busy looking after a large number of customers with reservations,” they told him. “We’re so sorry.”
Hours spent searching had produced no results. Everywhere he went in Osaka, there was no Kentucky Fried Chicken to be found.
“We need KFC on Christmas day,” Keizo Ido told Nikkei Voice in an interview from his home in Osaka.
And his desire for the fast food restaurant’s fried chicken isn’t just unique to him. Somehow, KFC has become synonymous with how Japan celebrates the holidays.
When asked why he didn’t just go somewhere else, Keizo explained, “Because I had a craving for Kentucky.”
According to business website Gaishoku, this tradition all started when someone visit the Aoyama branch of KFC and complained they couldn’t get a turkey for the holidays. “I can’t get a turkey here, so I’ll celebrate with KFC fried chicken instead,” he reportedly said.
After this, KFC came up with a new campaign in Japan that encouraged fast food foodies to “Eat KFC on Christmas!”
When this Christmas-centered campaign officially began in 1974, Japan didn’t have any solid traditions except for giving out cakes and presents. That’s why this simple idea was such a great hit. It helped cement “KFC Christmas” as more than just a tradition, but as a part of Japanese culture itself.
Since then, KFC has devised new marketing campaigns every year to keep up customer interest and helping the company keep a firm hold as a holiday staple.
According to website Toyo Keizai, the Christmas season is also the time when KFC sees the most significant rise in sales. KFC sells things such as special combos for a limited period of time that boosts sales by five to eight times during their campaign.
In order to survive in this competitive market, KFC has also had to move with the times setting up things like online reservation systems. The company has also taken to accepting reservations almost a month in advance.
Although KFC accepts reservations starting in November, there is still a large demand on the stores on the day of and they can’t always meet the demand.
As a result, some have to wait up to two hours in order to get served and sometimes in the worst case you end up like Ido, Kentucky-less for the holidays.
Even though it seems like a lot of trouble, Japanese people still go crazy for KFC on Christmas. Why? “Tabetaku Narunaru Kentucky”. This phrase can be seen and heard throughout Japan whether on the television or radio, or in newspaper ads.
It means, quite simply, “I crave Kentucky.”
Repeat a message enough times and people will start to believe the message. Whether it’s simply a strong marketing strategy or a new kind of holiday tradition, Christmas means Kentucky and Kentucky means Christmas in Japan.