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What Does Japan Eat on Christmas Day?

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From raw horse and whale to fermented soybeans and the infamous Fugu fish, Japan certainly has its fair share of interesting foods. So, what do the people of Japan traditionally eat on Christmas Day?

Well, having lived in Japan for a few months now I’m starting to miss certain British food. I’m not too bothered about a Sunday roast, but I can certainly understand its appeal at Christmas.

But hey, I’m in Japan so I’ll eat what everyone else does! I’m sure it’s something wild and out of this world, right?! No, perhaps it’s a time-honored tradition of perfectly cooked ingredients and incredible-tasting dishes, right?…

Well, no! As it turns out, although Japan doesn’t particularly celebrate Christmas in general, practically everyone over here does have a tradition on the 25th of December. Each and every year, thousands of hungry people in Japan queue up to order a bucket of fried chicken from K.F.C.

I’ll say it again: A bucket of fried chicken from K.F.C.

So, how on earth did this whole thing start? Well, let’s talk about it!

Japan KFC Christmas
Christmas dinner in Japan isn’t something you’d imagine!

Where Did KFC for Christmas in Japan Come From?

Japan has one man to thank for becoming a fried chicken-loving Christmas bunch of people, and that man is Takeshi Okawara. In 1970, then manager of the very first KFC in Japan, Takeshi Okawara apparently overheard an ex-pat talking about how much he missed eating turkey for Christmas. So what was the next best option? Kentucky Fried Chicken, of course!

In 1974 he launched a slogan reading “ケンタッキーはクリスマス” which translates to “Kentucky is Christmas” and the rest is history. According to TimeOut, KFC now attributes over one-third of its yearly revenue in Japan to the Christmas rush.

We talked a little bit about this in the article: 63 facts about japan

Do I Have To Order In Advance?

If you’re in Japan over Christmas (Awesome by the way!), and you fancy swapping your Christmas Day Turkey for some Kentucky Fried Chicken you probably won’t have to book.

If you’re after a couple of bits of chicken only, then you’ll likely be alright to come down on Christmas Eve and pick it up. That said, if you really don’t want to miss out, KFC has now released an online order form so you can pickup or have your orders delivered.

If you’re after several buckets of chicken and extras (including hot lemonade according to their website) for your family, you should definitely order online to save any possible disappointment!

What Else Does Japan Eat At Christmas?

Japan Christmas Cake
Japanese Christmas Cake – By naotakemCC BY 2.0

Cake! Though technically not on Christmas Day we’ll count Christmas Eve as Christmas as well for the point of this article! They’re normally relatively plain, with a sponge filling and whipped cream topper. Sprinkle some Christmas strawberries and decorations for a bit of festive fun!

During the time of Japan’s vast westernization, Christmas cakes (a western-style dessert) were brought in and became synonymous with the upper class and those who were advocates of westernization. As such, they were associated with social status, so once the general public could afford them their popularity became huge.

While they might have originally been associated with foreword thinking views, modernity, and social status, they’re now paired with the simple and kind act of sharing with family and friends.

What do you think about Japan’s traditional Christmas food? Would you trade in your Turkey for a bucket of the colonel’s finest? Or are you more of a dessert person who’s booking your flights as we speak to grab yourself a Japanese Christmas cake?!

Jonny Gleason

Photographer, Magazine owner, Matcha drinker. One of these is definitely the most important, just unsure which...

Instagram: @jonny.gleason

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