The connection between the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain of fast food restaurants with Christmas is one more Japanese peculiarity usually attributed to the infatuation with everything foreign (and especially with everything American), a rend to the eyes of the foreign observer seems blatantly obvious in many aspects of modern Japanese life. The explanation, though, is somewhat more specific: a few years ago, the Japanese branch of the company documented the need of some foreigners living or temporarily staying in Japan these days to find some turkey to celebrate Christmas away from home; because the particular variation of poultry is rather scarce in Japan, they ended up in the KFC restaurants for something close and for a “taste of home” so to speak. So they created a special menu for Christmas and because the Japanese don’t have a tradition for the one for this day, it didn’t take them long to embrace it with their characteristic enthusiasm and consistency.
And why should it be any other way? Even though I was born and raised in a country with a state (Christian) religion, almost all things I consider “Christmas-y” have nothing to do with either the holiday’s religious aspects or Greek traditions –and I know I’m not the only one. Winter solstice has always been important to people (it is not a coincidence that early Christians linked this date with the birth of their faith’s most important being) so anything offering a chance to remember it is, at least to my eyes, perfectly acceptable. The only difference is that the Japanese created this link more recently than the Greeks (but in a couple of centuries this won’t matter anymore) and that they didn’t completely integrate Christmas to their own celebration of the solstice (touji/冬至).
Still, the validity of the particular criticism is questionable for one more reason: Japan’s “infatuation with America” is a very complex subject since it is just one dimension of a multi-layered relationship going on for over one and a half century and starting at the changes initiated by the Emperor Meiji; the reference is not accidental for many of the things are today considered “classical” Japanese were institutionalized at that period together with the first American cultural imports. Those lamenting the destruction of Japanese culture by the American imperialism should look no further than the pair baseball-judo: they are both products of the Meiji Era but the former preceded the latter by one decade, hence its Japanese name (yakyuu/野球) and its enormous popularity. Will “Christmas at KFC” become something similar? I don’t know but I have seen stranger things happening –and not just in Japan.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.