How Eating Kentucky Fried Chicken Became a Christmas Tradition in Japan

This time of year, the internet thrills to the fact that the Japanese eat Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas. Those Japanese customers who want a premium KFC dinner with all the trimmings ready by Christmas Eve should reserve it well in advance, much as they do with the elaborately decorated kurisumasu keeki that follows it as dessert. Less well-understood are the origins of this curious modern custom. The Japanese themselves, even those who religiously tuck into a Colonel Sanders-branded Christmas dinner each year, are subject to certain misconceptions. At least in my experience, every Japanese person has expressed surprise when told that KFC at Christmastime is not an American tradition.

KFC’s marketing in Japan has long exploited an association with American heritage, implicitly or indeed explicitly.” Colonel Sanders is discovered as a boy of seven baking rye bread in the roomy kitchen of his ‘old Kentucky home,'” writes Japanologist John Nathan in his memoir Living Carelessly in Tokyo and Elsewhere, describing a KFC television commercial of the 1980s.


“‘A lifetime later,’ the narrator intoned, ‘this same tradition of excellence was transferred by the Colonel to his fried chicken.’ The preposterous selling point was KFC as traditional, aristocratic food from the American South. I couldn’t imagine a more amusing example of an American advertiser playing to Japan’s national obsession with American values and manners.”

This commercial appears in The Colonel Comes to Japan, a 1981 half-hour documentary Nathan filmed for the WGBH business series Enterprise. So does Loy Weston, the American executive in charge of KFC’s Japanese operations, who insists that the aristocracy angle offers no “consumer benefit.” But when informed by a Japanese executive that the spot tested better than any they’d produced before, he responds simply: “I give up. This is Japan.” Four decades later, Westerners who want to succeed doing business in the Land of the Rising Sun must still share that attitude — especially when presented with strategies they lack the cultural grounding to comprehend.

KFC’s presence in Japan goes back to 1970, when its first store opened for the Osaka World Expo. Its manager Takeshi Okawara was the one to think of promoting the chain’s “party barrels” of chicken as a festive substitute for an American-style turkey dinner. The inspiration, according to the Cheddar Examines video at the top of the post, was being asked by a local school to deliver chicken to its Christmas party dressed as Santa Claus. (His willingness to do so no doubt played a part in his later becoming Japanese KFC’s chief executive.) Within a few years “Kentucky Christmas” had become a household phrase, and one still used in the more recent TV commercials compiled just above.

In Japan, a country where Christians constitute just one or two percent of the population, eating KFC has become one of Christmas’ primary cultural associations. The Christmas song “Sutekina Holiday” by Mariya Takeuchi — now world-famous as the singer of the revived-by-Youtube 1980s dance tune “Plastic Love” — is commonly known as “the Kentucky Christmas song.” With Christmastime business accounting for a startling ten percent of Japanese KFC’s sales in any given year, measures have been taken to ensure that the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t put too much of a dent into it: the introduction of some social distancing, for example, into its notoriously long holiday lines. Kentucky Christmas has proven a success year after year in Japan, but thus far it hasn’t been adopted in other Asian countries. It certainly hasn’t in Korea, where I live — but then again, we’ve got much better fried chicken out here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

John Cleese Presents His 5-Step Plan for Shorter, More Productive Meetings (1976)

Let’s face it, meetings are boring at best and at worst, chaotic, volatile, and potentially violent. And let’s also face it: to get through life as functioning adults, we’re going to have to sit through one or two of them — or even one or two of them a week.

Maybe we’re the one who calls the meetings, and maybe they all feel like a waste of time. One solution is to have more informal meetings. This can be especially tempting in the age of work-from-home, when it’s impossible to know how many meeting attendees are wearing pants. Fewer rules can raise the spontaneity quotient, but allowing for the unexpected can invite disaster as well as epiphany.


On the other end of the scale, we have the formality of parliamentary rules of order, such as those introduced by U.S. Army officer Henry Martyn Robert in 1876. Robert, whose father was the first president of Morehouse College, gained a wealth of experience with unproductive meetings as he traveled around the country with the Army. One particular meeting became a defining experience, as one account has it:

While in San Francisco, the local leader of his community didn’t show up for a church meeting. Henry Robert was asked to preside over the town hall (without any prior notice). Let’s just say that on this particular evening in 1876, he did a bad job. An hour into the meeting, people were screaming and the church actually erupted into open conflict.

Sadly, this sort of thing has become almost routine at town halls and school board meetings. But it needn’t be so at the office. Nor, says John Cleese in the brief video above, do meetings need to follow the formality of parliamentary procedure.

Cleese’s rules are simpler even than the simplified Roberts or Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, an even more simplified version of Robert’s Rules. Furthermore, Cleese avoids using words like “Rules” which can be a turn-off in our egalitarian times. Instead, he presents us with a “5-Step Plan” for holding better and shorter meetings.

1. Plan — Clear your mind about the precise objectives of the meeting. Be clear why you need it and list the subjects.
2. Inform — Make sure everyone knows exactly what is being discussed, why, and what you want from the discussion. Anticipate what information and people may be needed and make sure they’re there.
3. Prepare — Prepare the logical sequence items. Prepare the time allocation to each item on the basis of its importance not its urgency.
4. Structure and Control — Take the evidence stage before the interpretation stage and that before the action stage and stop people jumping ahead or going back over ground.
5. Summarize all decision and record them straight away with the name of the person responsible for any action

Easy, right? Well, maybe not so easy in practice, but these steps can, at the very least, illuminate what’s wrong with your meetings, which may currently resemble one of Cleese’s many parodies of business culture. Nobody videophoned it in at the time, but trying to figure out who’s supposed to be doing what can still take up an afternoon. Let Cleese’s five steps bring order to the chaos.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Become a Project Manager Without a College Degree with Google’s Project Management Certificate

As we first mentioned last year, Google has launched a series of Career Certificate programs that allow students to gain expertise in a field, ideally enough to start working without a 4-year college degree. This initiative now includes a Certificate in Project Management, which consists of six courses.

  • Foundations of Project Management
  • Project Initiation: Starting a Successful Project
  • Project Planning: Putting It All Together
  • Project Execution: Running the Project
  • Agile Project Management
  • Capstone: Applying Project Management in the Real World

Above, a Program Manager talks about “her path from dropping out of high school and earning a GED, joining the military, and working as a coder, to learning about program management and switching into that career track.” An introduction to the Project Management certificate appears below.

The Project Management program takes about six months to complete, and should cost about $250 in total. Students get charged $39 per month until they complete the program.

You can explore the Project Management certificate here. And find other Google career certificates in other fields–e.g. UX Design and Data Analytics–over on this page. All Google career courses are hosted on the Coursera platform.

Find more online certificate programs from an array of providers here.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses and programs, it helps support Open Culture.

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150 Free Online Business Courses

Design Thinking for the Greater Good: A Free Online Course from the University of Virginia

Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector shows how and why human-centered design is a powerful tool. Offered by the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, the course lets students “view design thinking success stories from around the world, in areas as diverse as government, health care, and education.” Throughout the course, students will “learn the tools, techniques and mindset needed to use design thinking to uncover new and creative solutions in the social sector.”

You can take Design Thinking for the Greater Good for free by selecting the audit option upon enrolling. If you want to take the course for a certificate, you will need to pay a fee.

Design Thinking for the Greater Good has been added to our list of Free Business Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Startup School: Take YCombinator’s Free Online Course for Current & Aspiring Entrepreneurs

If you’re working on a startup, take note. YCombinator–a well-known Silicon Valley accelerator–has created Startup School, a free online program for entrepreneurs. The school has a track for current startup founders, and another one for aspiring/eventual founders. In each case, the school strives to offer the best lessons and advice on how to start a startup, while building “a community of entrepreneurs who can encourage, teach and support one another.” Startup School is completely free. You just need a device with access to the internet. View the curriculum here. (Topics include everything from “How to Get Start Up Ideas” and “How to Pitch a Startup,” to “How to Find the Right Co-Founder” and “How to Split Equity.”) And sign up here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!

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Ray Dalio & Adam Grant Launch Free Online Personality Assessment to Help You Understand Yourself (and Others Understand You)

Back in 2017, Ray Dalio published Principles: Life and Work, a bestselling book where the creator of the world’s largest hedge fund shared “the unconventional principles that he’s developed, refined, and used over the past forty years to create unique results in both life and business.” You can find a distilled version of those unconventional principles in a 30-minute animation video previously featured on our site.

To accompany his book, Dalio has now released, along with University of Pennsylvania organizational psychologist Adam Grant, a free personality assessment tool called PrinciplesYou. The assessment takes about 30 to 40 minutes to complete, and we would strongly encourage you to sign up for an account before you get started, so that you can save the results of the assessment afterwards. Otherwise you will lose the results.


According to psychologist Brian Little, “PrinciplesYou was developed over a two-year intensive and creative R&D process with two goals in mind. First, it measures traits that Ray Dalio and his team have observed and studied for many years as critical for personal and organizational success. Second, it is based on the latest research in personality science. The assessment provides a person’s score on a comprehensive set of traits, their underlying facets and interactive patterns, and it has high reliability, internal structure, re-test reliability and validity of these traits and facets. A distinctive strength is its ability to predict an extraordinary array of actual behaviors observed by the Bridgewater staff over many years.”

Adam Grant adds: “To achieve success, you need to know yourself and the people around you. Although your car comes with an owner’s manual, your mind doesn’t—and neither do your colleagues. We designed PrinciplesYou to help you gain the self-awareness and other-awareness that are critical to making good decisions, getting things done, and turning a group of coworkers into a great team.”

You can watch Grant and Dalio discuss PrinciplesYou above. You can listen to Grant feature Dalio’s insights on his Work Life podcast here. And finally you can start the free personality assessment here.

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IKEA Digitizes & Puts Online 70 Years of Its Catalogs: Explore the Designs of the Swedish Furniture Giant

The timeless modernism of the IKEA catalog, its promise of tidiness, clean, economical lines, and excellent value belie a struggle ahead, an ordeal customers of the global Swedish build-it-yourself juggernaut know too well. Will the bulky, majorly-inconveniently shaped boxes fit in the car? Will the rebus-like instructions make sense? Will we assemble a bed with love and care, only to find ourselves in a pile of its broken parts come morning?

Clearly outweighing such tragedies are the many happy memories we associate with buying, building, and living with IKEA products. The company itself has built such memories over the course of almost eight decades with an empire of Scandinavian design supermarkets.


“As of 2019,” Marie Patino writes at CityLab, “IKEA boasts 433 stores across 53 countries.” The IKEA catalog is as widely circulated as the Bible and Quran. The Swedish company with the quirkily named products and legendary cafeteria meatballs defines furniture shopping.

The layout of IKEA’s showrooms may turn “retail into retail therapy,” with corridors filled with monochromatic visions of clutter-free living. In these times, of course, we’re far more likely to take refuge in those venerable catalogs or the company’s always-improving website. Now we can do both at once with a trip through seven decades of IKEA catalogs, uploaded to the website for the 70th anniversary of the first 1950 release.

1951 “marked the first proper IKEA catalog,” writes Patino, as well as the first iconic cover featuring the first iconic design, the MK wing chair. Covers became more elaborate, with smooth mid-century modern living room layouts that tantalized, but the contents of the catalog looked like government order forms until the late 60s and 70s. It did not appear in English until 1985. In these early layouts we can see just how dated so many of these designs appear in hindsight.

The company’s signature business model came together slowly at first. It started in 1943, founded by Ingvar Kamprad in Sweden, as a mail-order business for stationary supplies. The furniture arrived soon after, but it would take another decade or so for the flat-pack idea to fully emerge. The BILLY bookshelf, perhaps the most popular IKEA design ever, debuted in 1979. Other staples followed, and in 2013, the original wingback chair made a modified comeback as the STRANDMON. Through it all, the catalog has documented Swedish design trends in a global marketplace.,

The 21st century has seen not only the return of the wingback but of the mid-century Scandinavian modernism with which the company made its name in the 1950s and 60s. Maybe that’s why it’s easy to think of IKEA as consistently embodying this trend, slightly updated every few years. But browsing through these catalogs shows how thoroughly IKEA absorbed all sorts of European influences—as well as the look of hotel room furniture from Miami Vice.

What kind of therapy is this? Gazing at dated or retro-hip products we are years too late to buy? It offers the same experience as all IKEA catalog shopping—without the struggle and expense of transporting and assembling the results: the distraction of a world without distractions. Explore the new archive of IKEA catalogs here.

via Bloomberg and Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Massive Harrods Catalogue from 1912 Gets Digitized: Before Amazon, Harrods Offered “Everything for Everyone, Everywhere”

A couple years ago, obituaries began appearing online for the department store Sears after the 130-year-old American company announced its bankruptcy. Many of the tributes focused on Sears, Roebuck & Co’s catalog, and for good reason. Their massive mail-order business, the Amazon of its day, transformed the U.S., selling guitars to Delta blues and rock and roll musicians and shipping thousands of build-it-yourself houses to rural homesteaders and suburbanites. The sheer reach and scope of the Sears’ catalog can seem overwhelming…. That is, until we turn to the 1912 Harrods for Everything.

This 1,525-page catalogue from London’s world-famous department store, Harrods, does seem to mean everything, with over 15,000 products available for purchase at the store’s location, by mail, or by phone (“anything, at any time, day or night”).


You can see the enormous monument to commerce for yourself at Project Gutenberg. The catalogue took 13 years to scan. “Some idea of the vast quantity of items that Harrods stocked or had available can be taken from the general index,” notes Eric Hutton, one of the volunteer editors on the project, “which runs for 68 pages, five columns to a page.”

Men and women could order custom-tailored clothing, fine jewelry, clocks, watches, furniture. Naturalists and hunters could have their trophies dressed and mounted. Policemen and, well, anyone, could order pistols, “knuckle dusters,” and handcuffs. “You could also hire bands or musicians, plus tents or marquees for outdoor gatherings. You could rent steam, electric, or petrol launches to go down a river, or, if you set your sights further afield, there were ‘exploring, scientific and shooting expeditions… completely equipped and provisioned for any part of the world”… perhaps the Edwardian British version of the Sears House.

A MetaFilter user points out how much globalization and empire play into the marketing. These are “not just luxury goods but commodities. I noticed wheat could come from at least three continents…. Over and over it explains how Harrods will outfit anyone abroad who needs a social or military or exploratory uniform: telegraph Harrods for shoe buckles appropriate to your stations.” Harrods also repeatedly emphasizes they will ship anywhere in the world. Colonial officials in India or Uganda could live like kings. We must confess, we doubt this merchandise was truly meant for everyone.

This was also a time when miracle cures and various unscientific treatments abounded. “You could buy things like chloroform or throat pastilles in dozens of varieties,” notes Hutton, “even those containing cocaine!”

A few of the commodities featured in Harrods for Everything are a lot harder to come by these days. Some of them, like the pages of guns, are easy to get in the US but not so readily available in the UK and many of its former colonies. (Though you can find catalogues for just about anything if you look hard enough.)

But aside from certain obvious historical differences, the catalogue isn’t that much different from the pages of online retailers who will also sell you almost anything, at any time of day, and ship it to you anywhere in the world. What we thought of as unprecedented innovation was commonplace in the days of Queen Victoria, only shipping took a lot longer. Harrods’ universalizing Latin motto even sounds particularly modern, in English, at least: Omnia Omnibus Ubique, or “everything for everyone, everywhere.” Yet much, too, has changed. Harrods, outfitter of the British Empire, is now owned by the state of Qatar.

See the fully scanned 1,525-page Harrods for Everything catalogue at Project Gutenberg.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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