If you chance to pass by the grave of Colonel Harland Sanders at Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery, you might notice buckets of chicken atop his memorial. In Japan, however, statues of Colonel Sanders can be found at a memorial ceremony for KFC Japan’s chickens.
While KFC is known for its unusual promotions and public relations stunts, the poultry memorial is not one of them. According to the English-language Japanese news site SoraNews24, KFC Japan conducts an annual memorial service for the brave chickens whose lives were lost in the service of satisfying Japan’s fried chicken craving.
KFC Japan Hosts an Annual Memorial Service
The memorial service, known as Chicken Thanksgiving, is an annual event that has been held since 1974 as a means for the company to express gratitude for the birds. According to SoraNews24, each year to commemorate the solemn occasion, the president of KFC Japan and other high-ranking executives, as well as “key people along the supply chain such as meat processors, sales reps, and seasoning producers,” gather at a temple in Japan to appreciate, remember, and honor the chickens that are so valuable to their business. They also “pray for safe and nutritious meat in the coming year.”
While Chicken Thanksgiving is a long-standing custom, the memorials aren’t well-known even in Japan, according to SoraNews24.
The memorial is usually held in early summer, but it’s making headlines right now because many Japanese families celebrate Christmas with buckets of KFC, thanks to a cunning businessman, a white lie, and a marketing campaign, according to Business Insider, which reported the story for their podcast. The company first opened a branch in Japan in 1970, in Nagoya, which was saved when the businessman convinced his Japanese market that people in the United States celebrated Christmas with buckets of KFC.
The concept took on, and in 1974, KFC Japan launched a marketing campaign promoting “Kurisumasu ni wa kontakia!” or “Kentucky for Christmas!” that helped transform buckets of chicken from a fast food dinner into an annual holiday feast. According to the BBC, the tradition is now so ubiquitous that it accounts for one-third of the chain’s annual revenue.