Cursed Chicken

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

A couple of weeks ago, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) did it again, adapting to the Japanese market with its own line of "karage"  (から揚げ) fried chicken at its Meguro store.  The Japanese KFC karage menu offers soy sauce with garlic-flavored chicken karage, sesame and Japanese peppers with soy sauce, chili pepper, and the Colonel's original recipe chicken karage.  KFC plans to open six more karage-style chicken restaurants in Japan over the next few months.  Of course, KFC already has a fancy KFC bar in Shimokitazawa, where you can get your order of fried chicken with one of forty different alcoholic drinks at this location, which is aimed at late-night customers.  You can even order whisky, pizza, pasta, and burgers as well, and finish it all off with cream puffs or tiramisu.  


Of course, if you are just hoping to get some old-fashioned deep-fried soup, then look no further than any of Japan's 1,200 KFC locations.  There, you can order deep-fried corn potage fritters, which are basically just deep-fried corn soup.  Don't ask for your chicken "extra-crispy" though - everything there is just "original recipe."  And don't be surprised when you can only get dark meat; white meat chicken is not very common or popular.  


Japan is KFC's third largest market, after the U.S. and China.  KFC began by partnering with Mitsubishi to introduce their restaurants to Japan, first opening at the Osaka World Expo in 1970.  Opening a standalone store first in Nagoya, then Osaka, KFC first lost large amounts of money until opening a store in Kobe that finally took off.  By 1973 KFC had 100 stores.  


KFC really tapped into Japan's psyche though, when they convinced the Japanese that nothing says Christmas dinner more than a big bucket of KFC fried chicken.  Today, orders for KFC-takeout at Christmas are made two months in advance and the lines can stretch out for hours.  Forty years ago, Christmas was not celebrated widely in Japan, but in 1974 KFC launched its first Christmas meal - chicken and wine for $10, a pricey meal back then.  Today, the KFC Christmas package includes fried chicken, a salad, and chocolate cake.  Each year, the company sells 240,000 of its "Christmas barrels" alone for about $40 a piece.  


KFC's story is not without a dark side, however.  Every KFC has a statue of "The Colonel" outside and before Christmas, he even dresses up as Santa Claus.  Although most Japanese look upon "The Colonel" as a happy, friendly character, for the Kansai-based Hanshin Tigers baseball team, it is a different story.  After the team's 1985 Japan Championship win, fans celebrating the win threw one of the storefront statues into the Dotonbori River in Osaka.  This unfortunate event gave birth to "The Curse of the Colonel," which is blamed for the 18-year long losing streak that followed the Tigers since this event.  Tossing the statue into the river was not meant to be malicious, of course - fans, celebrating the victory, had been standing on a bridge calling out the names of each player.  When a name was called, a fan resembling the player dove into the water.  However, when an American player's name was called, no one resembled him except for "The Colonel," and so off he went into the river.  Since then the Tigers have suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of the curse.  


Fans have regretted the event ever since.  In fact, after the Tigers' 2003 Central League championship, 5,300 fans dove into the river as an alternative celebration.  Unfortunately, a fan died in the incident and Osaka built a new bridge to make it harder for fans to dive into the water.  Although divers recovered most of the statue in 2009, fans believe that the curse will not be lifted until someone finds the Colonel's missing glasses and left hand.  The rest of the statue stands in front of the Koshien Stadium KFC restaurant.