Pulling at plastic wrapping, contorting the fragile cardboard box within, peering intently at the numbered squares adorned with cartoon images of reindeer and a fat man in a dapper red number, with a look firmly plastered across their faces that said, “what the hell is this thing?”
It was an advent calendar. Something that for my whole life I’d taken for granted. A fixture of my childhood for which the theme of the box chosen, based on either the cartoon character on front or as I got older the chocolate within, was taken with great care. The very thought that someone might have no clue as to what it was had never occurred to me in the slightest.
I’d always considered certain things to be at the forefront of globalization, dispensed across the global by Coca-Cola and McDonald’s; I figured most of the commercial aspects of Christmas to be among them. Then again, I hadn’t a clue as to 99.9% of Japanese holidays when I arrived here so the double standard was perhaps unfair.
But there is one extenuating circumstance. I didn’t just describe the look of kids but of senior citizens. Which in a way, when I think about for more than a mere moment makes considerably more sense, despite my initial surprise. Children for one are simply pleased with something new, bright and colourful which they are told has sweets inside. Adults tend to question the purpose of packaging a bit more. Children simply want to know the rules of this mysterious new object and how to extract chocolate from it.
Then there’s the element of media saturation. Anyone who has grown up in a developed nation over the last fifty years has been literally drowned in American pop culture. Christmas just like Valentines day in Japan, is exported commercial opportunity pure and simple. However, my assumption that globalization alone could spread global awareness of western traditions missed a vital element in its brief calculation, people don’t buy every piece of crap they see.
Almost, but not quite.
In order to sell stuff at Christmas you generally need to get consumers to see it with a certain nostalgic tint. I don’t buy overpriced mulled wine at Christmas purely for the taste after all. I buy it in pubs in England because it’s there and not far from it is a roaring fireplace, which when working in cahoots somehow convince me that Christmas has ever been thus, so thus I must buy.
Which leads me back to Japan where one such company has managed this in a big way, KFC. The Colonel Sanders chicken factory in Japan has managed something quite impressive. If you want to eat fried chicken at a KFC on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or Boxing Day you’ll need a reservation. It’s really that popular.
So how exactly has the purveyor of, in England at least, relatively cheap, late night, saturated fat and grease (delicious though it may be and particularly enticing after, say the sixth pint of the night) become a household name for all things Christmas in Japan?
When it comes down to it, I thinks its just because Colonel Sanders looks an awful lot like Santa Claus. That and some Coca-Cola-esque advertising tends to help.