Why is Colonel Sanders ‘Santa’ in Japan?

Christmas and KFC are synonymous in Japan.

Why is Colonel Sanders ‘Santa’ in Japan?

A country where the traditional Christmas dinner is KFC…

Every Christmas, life-size Colonel Sanders statues are dressed as Santa and families gather to share a bucket of fried chicken.

Why Is Colonel Sanders Santa In Japan

It all started with...

In a nation where Christmas is not a national holiday, how did this custom come to be so widely adopted?

Takeshi Okawara, the manager of the first KFC in Japan, came up with the idea of a shareable Christmas ‘party barrel’ and promoted it with a clever marketing campaign. 

In 1974, KFC took the marketing plan national, calling it Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii, or Kentucky for Christmas. This, combined with the ingenious ‘Santa’ makeover for Colonel Sanders, saw the birth of a brand new custom.

Santa In Japan At Kfc On Franchise Buyer

KFC, Coke and Christmas

The image of Santa with a red suit and white beard was reinforced by early Coca Cola advertising and became deeply embedded in western popular culture. 

This likeness to Colonel Sanders was leveraged by KFC and used to promote fried chicken as Christmas dinner. 

Just like a roast turkey dinner, the Japanese KFC Christmas tradition encouraged families to come together for a reunion and gained almost instant popularity nationwide.

Kfc Japan And Christmas On Franchise Buyer


KFC Japan sells Christmas packs and party barrels every year with pre-orders starting in November. 

The family-sized party barrel includes fried chicken, shrimp gratin and a triple berry tiramisu cake or a box with a premium whole roast chicken and sides.

The ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ campaign sees the biggest sales between the 23rd and 25th of December, and makes up around a third of the total yearly sales for KFC in Japan. 

These results make it one of the most successful franchise business advertising campaigns of all time. The answer to why Colonel Sanders is Santa in Japan… extremely clever marketing!

Kfc In Japan And Christmas Franchise Buyer