As a total atheist and a Jew, Christmas means absolutely nothing to me except for school vacation, annoying music, and an annual party at my friend Alistair’s house, but for some reason it has made a huge impression throughout the world, even in many countries like Japan where Christianity is virtually nonexistent. I’m not going to try and do any boring analysis about why, but I want to show two different news stories that discuss Christmas in Japan.
First, we have this really boring article about Santa Claus, written for Slate by David Plotz.
In Japan, a department store recently stumbled into the yuletide spirit by displaying Santa Claus–nailed to a crucifix.
This would be a pretty funny mistake if it were true, but it only took me ten seconds of fact checking (typing “Japan crucifix santa” into Google and finding a thorough Snopes.com article debunking this story) to find that it never actually happened.
Then we have this “foreigners eat weird food”Reuters article from Reuters, which tells us the incredible truth that people living in countries without Turkey don’t eat Turkey on Christmas! (I thought Christmas was ham or goose anyway? Aren’t most Americans still sick of turkey from Thanksgiving?) Anyway, here are the Japan bits:
In Japan, many people head to Kentucky on Christmas — Kentucky Fried Chicken, that is.
The fast food joints do a roaring trade over the Christmas period, with restaurants turning away customers on December 24 if they haven’t booked their chicken in advance.
“Over the period from 23rd to 25th December, sales can be as high as ten times normal levels,” said Sumeo Yokokawa, of the public relations department at Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan.
The Kentucky Christmas habit started in 1974, after a foreign customer mentioned to a store manager that he had come to buy fried chicken because he was unable to find turkey in Japan. His words inspired a sales campaign that paid off.
“The fashion at the time was to have a nice American-style Christmas,” said Yokokawa. “So we offered the chicken as a set with a bottle of wine and it was very popular.”
In Japan, many families opt for a plain sponge cake topped with whipped cream and strawberries. As delicious as it sounds, the term “Christmas cake” was long used to refer to unmarried women over the age of 25, who were said to be past their best, like cakes after December 25.
All of this is actually totally true. Not just KFC, but also Lotteria (crappy McDonald’s knockoff, apparently soon to be replaced by its parent company with a Burger King franchise) offer Christmas promotions on fried chicken, as do supermarkets, and even the small but excellent fried chicken takeaway I found in the Demachi area shoutengai this past Sunday. I would also like to congratulate the reporter for indicating that the totally old fashioned and no longer used “Christmas cake” expression for unmarried women is in fact no longer used. I’ve seen Western media touting that expression as recently as a year or two ago, and it’s nice to see that news of its demise is filtering abroad.