Colonel Sanders is one of the most recognizable faces of the 20th century. He’s also a huge icon here in Japan, a country that’s embraced his 11 herbs and spices in a big way. There are more than 1000 KFC Japan restaurants scattered across Japan, all sporting life-sized replicas of Colonel Harland Sanders (sadly, not a real Colonel) that you can go shake hands with if you like. The company is so obsessive about their founder, the statues all feature glasses with the proper prescription lenses he used. Japan loves KFC so much, there are two KFC bars in Tokyo where you can drink Makers Mark and eat chicken and coleslaw.
And now, Colonel Sanders has been found alive and well, living in Japan!
Well, not really. This is a cosplayer, brought in by KFC Japan to celebrate the original Colonel Sanders’ 127th birthday. But you believed me for it second, didn’t you?
KFC Japan was formed as a joint venture between the American company and the Mitsubishi Corporation, who purchased the franchise rights. After a test store was opened at the Osaka World Expo in 1970, the first store opened in Nagoya. Originally sales were slow, and the business lost $400,000 ($2.5 million in today’s money), causing the American partner to get cold feet, but the Japanese backers were calm, promising to take as long as it took for the idea of fried chicken to catch on with Japanese consumers.
This event was the start of the myth that “Japanese companies are so wise, they think in terms of decades rather than quarterly profit reports,” though after doing business in Japan for 20+ years, I might take issue with the statement. In reality, Japanese companies can be subject to short-term thinking just like every other company, terrified of taking risks or carrying inventory lest they are left holding stock of products after they’ve gone down in popularity. The reason the figures J-List sells take 6-9 months to come in after you preorder them is that the industry has standardized around a build-to-order manufacturing approach so they never have to hold stock or take risks themselves.
A big break for KFC Japan came in 1974 when the manager of the first KFC store was asked to play “Santa-san” for a local kindergarten Christmas party, in exchange for purchasing chicken. The event was such a hit that other kindergartens booked “Kentucky Christmas parties.” Eventually, Japan’s media took notice and reported on the phenomenon, asking the manager if eating KFC on Christmas was a normal American tradition. “Yes,” he lied, and the rest is history. Today KFC is a hugely popular “American” meal to eat on Christmas.
In Japan, the Colonel is known as “Colonel Ojisan” (Uncle Colonel) and is famous on the Internet for wearing everything from a Santa Claus suit to Dragonball to maid cosplay. The real Colonel Sanders visited Japan several times, including to christen the first store in Nagoya. Kind of weird to see him standing next to one of his statues.
Would you like to have Christmas dinner at KFC Japan? Check out the current campaigns KFC Japan has on-going.
Do you want to try KFC in Japan? Let us know on Twitter!
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