One of the things that often puzzles foreigners experiencing Christmas in Japan for the first time is the tradition to eat chicken at Christmas. Although a lot of people think of it as a rather old tradition it actually only started in the mid-seventies of the last century. Born as a marketing ploy by the advertising agency hired by Ketucky Fried Chicken, the original marketing campaign was launched on December 1st, 1974. Until then, Christmas had been a culinary blank for the Japanese. There was no particular food waiting to be associated with the event and the time was ripe for something to fill that blank. KFC was still fresh in Japan, having only been around since 1970 when the first restaurant opened in Nagoya (it closed soon, after about a year and the building it was located in was torn down in 2005). Japanese economy was growing rapidly and the people who had until then eaten almost only seafood, rice and vegetables found themselves with the money for the first time ever to introduce a whole new kind of food: chicken (burgers, beef and pork would come later). The slogan of the campaign was simple, “chicken for Christmas” and it got picked up big time, especially by the generation that had been born after war and were eager for a more international lifestyle. When something becomes big in Japan it really becomes big and from the start there were long lines to order your chicken. Standard practice was to make pre-orders a couple of months in advance and pick up on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on the way home after work.
These days the tradition lives on more as nostalgia than as the hip thing to do. We have a generation that has grown up and started families of their own having never known a Christmas without chicken, so I do not think the tradition will die out. In the beginning it was associated with KFC and every restaurant in Japan had a special Santa outfit for the Colonel, including this one that I found in Kamakura City, the ancient capital city of Japan, south of Yokohama and Tokyo. These days almost all restaurants, mail order companies and convenience stores do the Christmas Chicken thing, so if the lines are too long at your local KFC you can always try the local convenience store.
Other things to do on Christmas if you are Japanese is to go on dates (in case you are still of dating age) or to eat strawberry and cream cake, if you are too young to date or too old to be bothered. Personally I do not celebrate Christmas so it will be just another day in the office for me!
While visiting the ancient city of Nara I met this not quite so ancient mascot of a famous Donut chain, the Pon De Lion! He was swamped most of the time so I had to wait to get these clear shots of him. Mister Donut lovers will note that his assistant, the lovely girl in the first photo, is wearing a vintage uniform from the 1970′s! I have no idea why I know these things. The place is also interesting as it is right on the entrance of Nara’s famous covered shopping streets and most people who have visited Nara from the nearby train station has probably passed through here. If you are a big Mister Donut fan, you’ll probably have to visit the latest shop at Tokyo’s Sky Tree!
When winter hits Japan I go into hibernation and there’s not much that can rouse me out of warm cocoon that is my futon from January to February, hence it is not a mystery that there is one major folklore event in Japan that I know nothing about, the setsubun! I leave it to brother Wikipedia to explain it to you, but trust me in telling you that it involves demons in shorts that can only be fought off by a well placed barrage of beans. During the first week of February there’s demons all over Tokyo and many shops put on nice setsubun decorations that I always tend to miss. It was hard to miss this scowling demon guarding a Familymart convenience store in Asakusa earlier this week though!
Yesterday I visited the Tokyo Furusato Matsuri and spent about six hours wandering around the food stalls and checking out the performances. Time well spent! The event is still on so if you haven’t got any special plans today you might consider heading over. Here’s one of my favorites, Yuzu products from a Kouchi Prefecture stall! I love all kinds of citrus fruits but this Japanese Yuzu (I think it is also common in Korea) is one of the best! There’s all kinds of yuzu products but since I don’t do much cooking I prefer the juices and the drinks. Yesterday they had two kinds of drinks on sale. Yuzu juice is a mix of lemon like sourness, grapefruit like bitterness and a bit of tangerine sweetness, but more mellow than any of these. The PET bottle one is a little bit more sour than the glass bottle one, but both are delicious. I think I had a couple of both during the day. I also couldn’t resist sharing their ad, an absolutely wonderful photo of a boy playing in a river. I wish I had grown up in the Japanese countryside summer as well!