It’s Christmas! You know what that means yeah? Greasy dirty deep-fried chicken for all. Well, if you’re in Japan at least. See, Japan has this weird Christmas tradition of eating KFC for Christmas dinner. That’s sick, but why?
It all began in 1974. Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan, and although these days the commercial aspect of Christmas is a pretty big deal, back then it was just business as usual really. The story goes that westerners in Japan found themselves missing turkey dinners at Christmas, as a turkey is notoriously hard to find in Japan. So they made do with fried chicken from KFC instead.
The PR people of KFC Japan pounced on this, and transformed the colonel into a version of Santa, and boom, thanks to some opportunistic marketing and a clever ad campaign, the tradition of ‘kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!’ or ‘Kentucky for Christmas!’ was born. Today, KFC’s most profitable time of the year by far is December, with wait times for Christmas Colonel lasting as long as two hours.
I’ve been fascinated by this tradition for years, and wanted to explore it further, but merely trying it wasn’t enough. I had to live it. I had to eat nothing but KFC chicken for a week. Why? Well, why not? I spent a week eating nothing but Nutella once, and I didn’t die (kind of), surely this would be fine.
And so, Tokyo Survival Channel was kind enough to fly me from the warmth of the Melbourne summer to the chilly streets of Tokyo, so I could destroy my insides. Lovely! The rules would be the same as they were with my Nutella week, I’d be able to drink whatever I wanted, as long as it wasn’t a food substitute. So no sides, no burgers, no dessert, just chicken. Coffee, beer, etc, all fair game. Bliss.
I decided to begin my crispy adventure on a Sunday night. Having spent the afternoon at the most amazing all-veg kaiseki lunch, I was ready for some greasy dirty bird.
As I made my order, I couldn’t help but feel so extremely buoyed. This is it, I thought. The pinnacle of my journalism career. This will be my legacy.
I headed back to my mate Ryou’s house in Shinjuku and got stuck right in to my six-piece box and—holy shit—Japanese KFC is so much better than the shit back home.
Fuck me, this week will be a walk in Yoyogi Park.
I woke up feeling good. The kind of good that comes from walking the streets on a crisp winter morning in Tokyo and opening Google Maps, the kind of good that comes from typing in “KFC” in the little search bar, the kind of good that comes from knowing the nearest KFC is less than a kilometre from Ryou’s house—where I’m staying. Life. Is. Beautiful.
I spend the day roaming around, grinning from ear to ear, constantly offering my mate and cameraman for this journey, Tom, some chicken. He passes every time. I don’t know why.
The winter days in Tokyo are short, man. I never get used to it. This photo of me shitting myself on a child’s swing was taken just before 5pm.
By dinner time I was beginning to feel my first pangs of apprehension. After all, I was in Japan. I really wanted some ramen, takoyaki, sushi, hell, a man will settle for a stick of yakitori.
But a bucket of chicken is all a man has.
Okay enough weird shit, anyway, the lights on this building were cool. They wouldn’t let me in with the chicken though.
So look, here’s the thing about Japan yeah, it’s full of izakayas. What’s an izakaya? Basically it’s a really informal place people gather after work to eat and drink (mostly drink) till the early hours of the morning. The thing about izakayas is, they have probably the best draft beer you’ll ever have. I don’t know how they make it so good, I don’t know why it’s so good, but fuck me, the creamy smooth goodness of literally any draft beer at literally any izakaya will make you believe in love. The real Disney shit.
Basically this is all a roundabout way of me saying that I woke up very hungover on day three.
I really didn’t want any more chicken. But my stomach was rumbling, and I was kind of enticed by the new “red hot” spicy chicken range. So, with reluctance and curiosity, I ordered two pieces and…
Oh my god.
We’re back baby. They had us in the first half, I’m not gonna lie. But we back. So fucking good.
I spent the bulk of the day post-spicy-chicken traveling around different neighbourhoods of Tokyo for another story I was working on. I figured, since it was such a cold day, and I’d be outside the whole time, it really wouldn’t be a problem if I bought a 12-piece bucket and just kept it in my bag all day. Walking around Tokyo was like walking around a natural fridge, I reasoned, and since I’d be in some rural areas without KFC, this would be a way to ensure I wouldn’t go hungry.
That evening I met up with my mate Reed from Melbourne, who just happened to be travelling through Japan the same time I was there. Naturally, I offered him some of my bag chicken.
Cold, but delicious.
We headed to an izakaya in Shibuya, and had a nice night; the kind of night you have when you see an old friend for the first time in a long time and you talk about all the things you’ve been doing and the things you’ve seen and everyone is happy and the world is just nice. Except, everyone on the table was enjoying the delicious izakaya food, and I was stuck with my bucket of cold chicken. Which for some reason the staff were totally cool with?
Day four, we’re really doing this. We really out here. I tried to convince myself that I was feeling great.
I bought another bucket from my local ‘FC, and ignored the weird rumblings in my stomach and my dizzy head. But when I raised the bucket over my head for this photo, I immediately felt like I was about to fall over.
I attributed it to being hungover again, and went on with my day. But as I walked the streets of Shinjuku, it began to feel apparent that something was not quite right, and beer wasn’t the culprit.
I’d eaten all of two pieces before I had to duck into a Starbucks and release the brown liquid demon begging to escape from my bowels. Disgusting I know, but you didn’t come here for high art. So sit there and listen while I tell you about my violent diarrhoea. Ouff, it just, it felt so bad. I sat on that Starbucks toilet for about 10 minutes feeling sorry for myself and wondering how this could’ve happened.
Could it be? The chicken I’d kept in my backpack the entire day before? The chicken I had continued to eat 10, 12, 16 hours after purchasing? One can never truly be sure. Whatever the cause, I was sick. Very sick. Within 10 minutes of departing Starbucks I was once again on a public toilet, this time at McDonald’s. Look, I’m very, truly, definitely so sorry to whoever used those toilets after me. My sincerest.
There was nothing I could do, the day was a write-off. So I went home and spent time between YouTube and the toilet. It was beautifully depressing.
Much later that evening, at around 10, I got hungry again, so I went to my local and ordered a couple of spicy pieces, a couple of lil tender strips, and an original recipe, and since they were all different types of chicken, they came individually wrapped in paper! How cute and unnecessary!
I smashed these then went to the toilet again, then went to bed. Fuck day four.
You know what? There’s really nothing like a 24-hour bout of food poisoning and a solid ten-hour sleep to make you feel good as new. For real. I felt fucking amazing. And I was starving. So off to my local KFC I went. It was nice, going to the same KFC every morning, it felt like we were really making progress, me and the staff, a bit like family I think we were becoming. Yeah, proper wholesome.
A bucket of chicken please, yes, it’s me again, haha, the guy who keeps coming in here and taking photos with the chicken. Yes, I’ll have some more thank you haha mmmm lemme just, lemme just get another photo with the chicken real quick, yep thanks, see you tomorrow!
Later that night I found myself with my family again, the local ‘FC. This time I brought friends! Well, they were Tom’s friends. They didn’t quite understand why I was doing this, and honestly neither did I. They kept offering me chips and I came so close to breaking the no sides rule.
But if it’s one thing they teach you in journalism school, it’s integrity. Get that chip away from me, heathen.
And so, as all great stories go, we stood around an alleyway for a while drinking convenience store beers and eating KFC like rats hiding in the darkness, attempting to feel comfortable in a land too hostile to stay but too welcoming to leave. (The land was the alley).
And then, as all great stories go, we ended up at an izakaya. Everyone ordered their nice izakaya food, and I ate my contraband chicken. It was becoming routine, this.
And so here we are. My last day in Japan, for now at least. I spent my final day at a lovely park eating lovely chicken and feeling rather lovely. With the food poisoning episode well behind me, and a backpack full of memories and only a little bit of chicken, I reflected on just how fucking dumb this idea was.
Truly, such a dumb, terrible idea.
And yet, I’d come so far. Just one more day to go. You may be thinking, hey man, you’ve still got a whole day of chicken eating ahead of you, you can’t leave Japan now, you fucking coward. Hey, I hear you, but look, I planned this. My last day will be spent in Australia, so I can compare the pair.
My initial plan was to sneak some KFC onto the flight, but honestly, my heart wasn’t in it. I just could not stand the thought of more cold chicken. So I boarded with a plan to sit through the ten-hour flight with nothing but gin and tonics to hold me over. I fell asleep before dinner was served, and woke up to this. Look at this shit. Sushi on a plane. Peak human progress. I looked around and tried to see if anyone else was as pleasantly surprised as I was. I just never really pictured sushi as plane food before, you know? It just feels so progressive. We started out rubbing sticks together in a cave, and now we have sushi on a plane. How fucking neat. Still, it’s depressing to go from the lofty highs of plane sushi, to the crushing depths of not being able to ingest said plane sushi. But sometimes life just hits you like that. It’s best not to dwell, just let the plane sushi go. It’s never as good as you imagine it to be anyway.
I made it back on Australian soil feeling like a right piece of shit. My face was full of pimples, my skin felt oily, going up the stairs at my house puffed me out, and I was constipated. I felt fat too, sluggish, slow, and sloppy. But then I had a long nap, a long shower, a long shit, and boom, I was feeling fresh, fit, and hungry. So off to KFC in Thornbury I went.
Speaking of Thornbury, If you’re a Japanese reader thinking of visiting Australia someday, I highly recommend a few days in Thornbury. I don’t know how it’s not featured on Lonely Planet, but life is full of mystery and injustice. Anyway, my gosh, the activities in Thornbury! The views! The people! The weird cunts who twirl hoops and shit while you’re stopped at the lights! Oh the joys you’ll have in Thornbury.
Earlier in the article I mentioned how KFC in Japan was better than the stuff in Australia, look, that’s not entirely true. Actually, since I’m something of an expert now, you can trust my opinion when I say, one’s not better than the other—they’re just different. But I love them both, for different reasons. I imagine this is what having children feels like.
Let’s compare. First off. The chicken itself. KFC Japan does it better, hands down. But Japanese KFC lacks the variety of Australian KFC. One glaring menu omission comes to mind: Popcorn chicken. Those little morsels of pure serotonin don’t exist in Japan, which like, what the fuck Japan. Wake up. And as for the nuggets, Aussie KFC smashes Japanese KFC out of the park on that count. But then, the new red hot spicy chicken range at KFC Japan is probably the best chicken I’ve had from any KFC, ever. So you can see my dilemma. It’s impossible to call.
Freedom. I had spent the previous day completely pigging out. No holds barred. I will not go gentle into that good night kind of shit. It was disgusting. Pure hedonism. But today, today was mine. With the seven days complete, I could eat whatever I wanted. Getting out of bed was difficult though, I felt so tired and so heavy. I got downstairs, made a coffee, and opened the fridge in search of breakfast.
And there they were, three pieces of cold colonel, still in the box. I looked at them, closed the fridge, and walked away. An hour later I was back. Fuck it. Day eight we having chicken again. I chucked the three pieces in the oven, and dusted them lightly with chicken salt, a nice lil touch when reheating the colonel. And then I sat in the kitchen in silence, eating leftover KFC, for the eighth day in a row, wondering what this all meant.
But see, it doesn’t have to mean anything. Sometimes shit just happens. Sometimes things get so hot and so dense that they concentrate into a single point producing so much energy that an explosion creating the whole universe occurs. Sometimes, from the resulting explosion, stars and planets form, and sometimes, on some planets, life emerges from a weird primordial stew made up of a combination of chemicals from the planet’s atmosphere which, along with some form of energy as a catalyst, go on to form proteins which then evolve into every species on the planet. No one knows why. Does it really matter?
Sometimes people eat chicken for a week, don’t think about it too much.
All photos by Tom Forrest (besides the crappy iPhone shots taken by the author)