As we draw to the close of yet another year, the world waits with baited breath for the carnage that the human race is about to lay before its feet. I am of course talking about the mountains of extra sick and excrement that it will have to absorb as a result of us brazenly drinking enough alcohol to kill 7 bears, and eating so much cheese that the cows are paid overtime.
Bizarrely in Japan, the world will be preparing for a Boxing Day absorption of Kentucky Fried Chicken by-products. Indeed, KFC is so popular over here on Christmas Day that you actually have to pre-order your Bucket o’ Sweaty Chicken from your local franchisee well before the event; “it is VERY busy,” I am told by my JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) when I query the subject. Quite when it became acceptable to eat chicken from a bucket is a matter for another day (I can only assume someone spelt “basket” wrong in the 80’s and it stuck), but to make an entire nation desire KFC at any time, let alone Christmas Day, is an incredible achievement worthy of international recognition. Well here it is, KFC Japan; said recognition right here, going out to about 3 people in the UK, 1 in the States and maybe 1 or 2 in Australasia as well!
I know what you’re thinking, sitting there all smug on your sofas with your MacBooks; “those crazy Japanese!” you say with your fist held aloft, “that would never happen to us!”
Well I don’t know about you, but Christmas hasn’t begun for me until I hear those magical words emanating from the television set:
Watch out, look around,
’cause something’s coming, coming to town!
Recognise them? Yes, they’re the lyrics to the Coca-Cola advert; the very same company that popularised the modern-day image of Father Christmas (although they didn’t create it, contrary to popular belief). This year they’ve brought out some cute little bottles that look like the baubles you hang on the tree, and which you could use as such with a little modification I’m sure. Now, I like Coca-Cola as much as anyone, but those things make me want to hijack a lorry, steal them all and take a bath in it.
Christmas for me also wouldn’t be the same without Quality Street; while I wouldn’t touch Nestle chocolates at any other point in the entire year, suddenly at Christmas I’m stuffing them into my mouth from an industrial-sized tin like a squirrel collecting acorns for the winter. I have a good system too; I eat everything except the Strawberry Creams simply because the rest of my family hates them and then, when everything else is gone, I have a pile of my 3rd favourite sweets waiting for me at the bottom (my favourite is Fudge, closely followed by the Caramel Barrels in case you were dying to know).
When it took on Christmas from us Westerners, poor old Japan, with its debilitating lack of ovens, was totally unable to replicate the roast dinners to which we have become accustomed and so, seeing a gaping hole in the market, KFC launched a huge marketing campaign in the 70s to associate itself with Christmas in the same way that Coca-Cola has done so successfully back home; of course it helps that the Colonel bears more than a passing resemblance to the big man himself. The result is what seems like a rather strange/amusing modern tradition to an outsider, but which actually seems much less strange when you’ve been living in the country for over 4 months.
What is the first food that comes to mind when you think of Japan? Sushi? Noodles? Perhaps it would surprise you to know that many of Japan’s favourite foods revolve around dunking whatever they can find into a big vat of hot oil; Katsu Don (rice with a deep-fried pork cutlet and a couple of fried eggs); Takuyaki (deep-fried, battered octopus balls); Katsu Curry (deep-fried pork cutlet with curry and rice); Croquettes (deep-fried mashed potato); Tempura (battered, deep-fried vegetables/prawns); Chips (deep-fried… well you know). They love a good deep-fry sesh!
Now please don’t think I’m trying to paint a picture of a nation with bad diets and terrible food because, honestly, fat Japanese people are extremely hard to come by. If you’re lucky enough to have a Japanese mum then you’re laughing because you get a bento box full of rice, fish and all sorts of healthy goodies every day, but if you’re a Western peasant like me then it is all too easy to pick up a croquette potato or Katsu Curry (most days at the canteen in fact) to fill you up for little cost. Sushi is wonderful if you don’t mind being hungry again in an hour but this deep-fried stuff, it really does the business. As does ramen but that’s a whooooole other post. Oh ramen, how I love your noodley soupey goodness.
With a nation so in love with the joys of fried food it seems only natural that they turn to the Colonel for their Christmas chicken fix when roasting is simply not an option. I’m afraid though, that this is one Japanese tradition into which I shall not be taking part…
Bring on the Yorkshire Puddings, baby!