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Boom and bust

Malia Politzer
Editor of piqd.com. International Investigative Journalist
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piqer: Malia Politzer
Friday, 21 December 2018

Household Name: How Kentucky Fried Chicken Became Synonymous With "Christmas" In Japan

Household Name is a brilliant podcast produced by Business Insider that tells the surprising and often hidden stories behind the biggest household brands—how, for example, Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck (an inexpensive, but highly acclaimed white wine) got its name, how the Starbucks Pumpkin Pie Latte became the mass sensation that it is today, and why FIMA regularly checks whether an International House of Pancakes is open, in order to assess the seriousness of a natural disaster like a flood, hurricane or tornado.

In this holiday-themed episode, producer Sally Herships goes to Japan, where Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has become synonymous with Christmas cheer and Colonel Sanders an alter ego to Santa Claus, to explore how the fast food chain managed to colonize the holiday.

Her search leads her to a Japanese man named Takashi Okowara, a former sales manager for a printing and packaging company, who was recruited to introduce KFC to Japan during the World Fair in 1970. Rather than taking the higher level management job he was initially offered, he chose to run the first KFC introduced to Japan and work his way up. 

Initially, he said, the store was a huge flop: Despite his attempts to advertise the product—which he thought was very good—no one was buying KFC. Until one day, a Catholic nun at a nearby school wanted to throw a Christmas party for her kindergarten students. She bought KFC for the party, and requested that Okowara dress up like Santa Clause and dance in front of the kids. He agreed, and did an impromptu dance and sang a song about Christmas and KFC. Soon, other teachers were asking him to come to their classes at Christmas—and he had the idea of promoting KFC as a Christmas product (and substitute for the traditional Christmas turkey).

He became a small local news story. One of the journalists interviewing him asked if KFC was an American tradition, and he said "yes"—knowing it was a lie. Thus, a new tradition was born. 

Household Name: How Kentucky Fried Chicken Became Synonymous With "Christmas" In Japan
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