kentucky fried christmas

Kentucky Fried Chicken, 1960’s

(Photo originally uploaded to Flickr by Roadsidepictures.)

On Christmas Day, J. and I went next door to Richard and Michelle’s apartment to engage in the stunningly esoteric Japanese Christmas practice of consuming Kentucky Fried Chicken. Although I had been assured by my hairstylist that she too would be spending time with her family at Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Day, I was still unprepared for the scale of Kentucky Fried Christmas in Japan. Apparently it’s customary in Japan to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Eve with your girlfriend or boyfriend, or on Christmas day with your family. Of course, I have no idea what the actual percentage of Japanese consumption of KFC at Christmastime is (I have seen 10% bandied about as a number), but the fact that you have to reserve your Christmas order in advance — even at sub-outposts like the Toyonaka Nissho outlet, goes a long way toward indicating the popularity of this practice.

Apparently Kentucky Fried Chicken (or “Kentucky’s,” as it’s often called) was first introduced to Japan in 1970 at the World Expo in Osaka. So basically I live right near the ground zero of KFC colonization. I haven’t been able to find the reference again, so this may be entirely apocryphal, but I did see an account somewhere that claimed that the association between KFC and Christmas in Japan is the result of a 1974 television advertising campaign in which Colonel Sanders is dressed as Santa Claus. The combination of saturation advertising, as well as the fact that the Colonel and Santa are both jolly old white men with jolly old white beards, led to the indelible association of “Kentucky’s” with the holiday season.

Of course, one of the things that is so interesting about living in Japan is the fascinating form that hybrid adaptation often takes, as well as the difficulty of reading this adaptation within the established interpretive frameworks of postcolonial theory. On the one hand, this is clearly yet another example of the homogenization of culture under the pressure of global capital. And yet Christmas in Japan is not simply some form of mimicry, but rather a (semi) self-conscious adoption of foreign cultural practices for the purposes of pure enjoyment (albeit consumerist enjoyment). As one of my students pointed out in a journal entry, Christmas in Japan is interesting because Christmas has been wholly adopted by the Japanese, but without any of its religious content. Because of this, and because of the fact that Christmas is not strictly a family holiday (like the New Year holiday), the affective valence of Christmas, it’s emotional value, is totally different than in its manifestation among primarily Christian practitioners. On the other hand, the strong influence of American culture clearly dates from the U.S. occupation in Japan, an occupation that still continues in both a militaristic and an economic sense. Seen in this light the Colonel becomes a kind of culture commandant, a social reflection of the underlying state of military occupation and global market domination. That much said, however, it turns out that many Japanese neo-nationalists in fact favor the special relationship between Japan and the U.S. because it helps to differentiate Japan from its Asian neighbors, China and Korea, which Japanese nationalists see as inferior because they have not been “properly modernized” (i.e. Westernized). This view, which is imperialist in nature and dates back to the Japanese invasion of China and Korea prior to the U.S. involvement in WWII, is incredibly paradoxical given the actual conditions of domination at work in the contemporary global network of power.

In any case, all contemporary global networks of power aside, we had a wonderful Christmas dinner at Richard and Michelle’s. Bob and his girlfriend Yuki came over, bringing with them immense quantities of good red wine, and Michelle added a delicious salad and some exquisite mince pies to the Kentucky Fried centerpiece. In fact, the “Christmas Barrel” that we had wanted to order, which would have come with Christmas cake, was all sold out so Michelle substituted mince pies instead. Which was a good thing, considering that Michelle’s mince pies were powers of ten more delicious than anything that KFC could have put together. The only unfortunate aspect of the deliciousness of Michelle’s mince pies was the fact that I ate too many of them, and this, along with the large amount of red wine I ingested, led me to have one of the more engorged Christmases I’ve had in recent memory. J., of course, warned me not to eat so much, and I should have listened. Instead I spent the night lying in bed feeling like a saturated cow and drifting off to sleep occasionally, only to be woken up by yet another bloated stomach pang.

Incidentally, Gerry Yokota, the Chair of the Graduate School of Language and Culture at Osaka University, grew up in Kentucky and lived in the same town (I believe this is Corbin) as the Colonel. She would often see him sitting out on his front porch, old and ancient, as she walked by. Of course the Colonel wasn’t an actual Colonel. He was given the honorary title of “Kentucky colonel” by the Governor of Kentucky in 1935.


No Responses Yet to “kentucky fried christmas”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s