Chicken with All the Trimmings

The Quirky Series > Penis Fest > Love Janitor > Maid Cafe > Race Queen > Cosplay > Pastors > Melons > Xmas

In the early 1970s, Japan was the victim of a foreign invasion of biblical proportions. Though not mentioned in any history textbook or newspaper archive, the effects of this attack can still be seen today with the most serious ramifications becoming readily apparent around Christmas time. You see, in 1971 Colonel Sanders slew his first Japanese chicken and soon after Kentucky Fried Chicken started serving in Japan, a beginning that would eventually evolve into christening chicken take-out as the staple of the Japanese Christmas Eve dinner - a yearly pillage of the intestines continues to this day.

Christmas Eve in Japan is hardly a religious event. Rather, it is a night for couples, a night of affection and expressions of love that will no doubt conclude at a love hotel or similar romantic hideaway. Valentine's Day has nothing on Christmas Eve in Japan when it comes to showing your true love that you really care. Further, a woman caught without a date on December 24th might just be tempted to trade in her Gucci and Prada for a nun's robe and headpiece. It is that serious. But to start the fires of romance on this eve, the mood will likely be set over a meal of chicken, coleslaw, beans, and biscuits from the corner outlet.

Indeed, KFC has risen from its introduction at Osaka's Expo '70 to become a respected locale of fine home-style dining in Japan. In the book Partnership Prosperity Potential by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, Takeshi Okawara, president and representative director of KFC, Japan Ltd., describes the subsequent invasion into the Japanese market 5 years after the first store opened as being "like a powerful tailwind behind us, and thereafter we began opening 60 to 100 stores a year for 16 years."

And as this wind continued to blow, KFC somehow managed to wedge its way into the stomachs of the Japanese for their celebration of the birth of Christ. But the obvious question is: Why on earth? Well, the Captain hadn't a clue. But he tried to unravel the mystery and will herewith share his experience with a Kentucky Fried Christmas.

I stumbled out of my office in the newsroom and headed for the printing department. There, I spied a senior linotype operator cleaning the innards of his machine with a rag.

Getting to the point quickly, I asked, "Do all Japanese people eat at KFC for Christmas dinner?"

"No way!" he exclaimed, obviously insulted by the question, but not enough to stop his work.

"So what percentage of households would you say do?"

"Ah, maybe 10%," he mumbled. He made a final rub of one of the main levers with the rag.

To me, 10% of 120 million people still represents a potentially hefty amount of grease for any one day, especially considering the popularity of the "Extra Crispy" variety over here. I left him to his task and ventured to the editing department where a copy boy sat at his desk smoking cigarettes.

"Are you going to eat at KFC for your Christmas dinner with your wife?" I asked, loosening a smoke from his pack on the desk.

"Yes," he said, his left hand propping up his chin, his cigarette in between his middle and index finger.

"Why?" I lit the smoke and puffed twice.

"The size of the chicken is small," he explained, releasing his grip to give a rough approximation of the chicken's dimensions with both hands - roughly that of a brick.

This is indeed true and a positively brilliant marketing ploy on the part of KFC. How can a Japanese fit a regular butterball into one of their Mattel Barbie-sized ovens when they can't even get it past the front door? Of course the answer is simple: provide small meager slabs of bone, skin, and fat, hence giving them what they want - less, and then charge them through the nose for the privilege. A stroke of pure genius, I say. Colonel Sanders was obviously thinking about more than just cornbread and coleslaw as side dishes when he popped his first Japanese bird in the oven on that fateful day in 1971. 'Brigadier General Sanders' wouldn't have been a stretch at that point.

I kept digging: "What food will you order?"

A smile grew over his face. "Two pieces of chicken, bouillabaisse, cornbread, coleslaw, and wine," he responded confidently.

"What the hell is bouillabaisse...uh, KFC sells wine?"

"No, it is from another store," he corrected and stubbed out his smoke.

Message to KFC: Get some vino in your joints and you will conquer this collection of islands and enslave its inhabitants inside of three and half years, maybe even two if you can swing Gallo on import at 4 bits a bottle.

These conversations, while somewhat helpful, were still not getting me to root of the issue: understanding the proclivity for the Japanese to choose KFC at Christmas. It had to be more than simply the size of the bird. I concluded this was going to require a little field investigation. My smoke joined his in the tray and I went back to my desk.

Not able to locate the keys, I worked the lock on junior reporter Junko's ball-and-chain and brought her down to the Shibuya Station area for a nice dinner at KFC this past Christmas Eve.

As we rode the train into town, my thoughts drifted to pleasant dreams of me wrapping my hands around a nice cup of steaming hot mashed potatoes with extra gravy. Junko kept marveling, and simultaneously squinting, at the "big round bright object in the sky slowly falling to the horizon in the west." I made a mental note to move her desk closer to a window.

As we approached the KFC on Koen Street, we paused as our eyes focused on a large statue of Colonel Sanders himself, wearing a red Santa hat and suit and holding his hands as though poised to bowl a few frames if only someone would only hand him a ball.

"Why are his hands like that?" asked Junko.

"That is the position the employees use to get the leverage necessary to strangle the chickens in the pens out back," I said with certainty. Satisfied, we both shrugged our shoulders and walked inside.

As surprising as this may sound, in my 2 years as a resident of Japan I had not been to a KFC before. Alcohol, Mr. Donut and Mos Burger had been the targets of my cash at mealtimes recently.

Once inside, I realized the interior looked very similar to any standard issue shop in the US. But I was calculating in my head how much gravy I was going to pour onto my mashed potatoes and therefore my inspection of the premises was only cursory.

After seeing that the combo meal I ordered did not come with mashed potatoes and then noticing that they were not even listed individually on the menu anyplace, I asked the young man manning the register: "Where are the mashed potatoes?"

"I am sorry, sir," he said, insinuating that they didn't have them.

Ok, I thought, maybe it's a regional thing and spuds have similar valuations to melons (equivalent to gold) and are prohibitively expensive. Certainly, a local starch substitute must exist. I then asked, "You got mashed rice?"

"I am sorry, sir."

"What the hell kind of country is this!" I screamed, slamming both of my fists onto the counter causing some napkins to shake loose from their dispenser.

Junko pulled me by the sleeve and we took our trays of chicken, coleslaw, wedge fries, and cokes over to a table and sat down.

As I sipped my coke to soothe my nerves, I asked Junko, "So why can't I get mashed potatoes here?"

"They are not easy to eat and not easy to make," she answered positively.

I guess pouring a box of flakes into a bowl, adding hot water, and stirring could be extremely challenging, well at least as difficult as mastering the proper use of the fork.

"Wedge potatoes can be eaten with your fingers," she said, just before demonstrating her point.

I suppose in the land of four convenience stores to a city block and more vending machines than trashcans, it is not surprising that expedience and ease are insisted upon when it comes to eating. But I still had to know: Why the Colonel's chicken at Christmas?

"You can't get a turkey easily in Japan," she said. "KFC is close enough. Look at this (she pointed at her battered and fried breast). Can you immediately tell the difference?" If my Grandmother had been there at that moment, she would have walked outside, pulled off one of the Colonel's arms, and banged her over the head with it.

In the end, like with the crushed spuds, convenience rules. I suppose if Japan wants to eat this processed piece of Americana because the portions are the right size and provide a convenient poultry substitute, I cannot stand in their way; I have never seen Japanese folks barricading the entrances to Yoshinoya restaurants in the US on the Emperor's birthday.

At that point, I decided that I had better just join the natives; dig in and throw all that is a mystery to the wind. So I tucked into the chicken with gusto, working my jaws for all they were worth, savoring each bit of Christmas goodness. I turned to Junko and caught her smiling.

The Quirky Series > Penis Fest > Love Janitor > Maid Cafe > Race Queen > Cosplay > Pastors > Melons > Xmas

Want to tell Captain Japan something?

Check out the Sake archive

Enter an email address and send this page to a friend


 Mojave 3 - Out of Tune

 Mogwai - Young Team

 George Orwell - 1984

More from the World's Only Website