Kentucky Fried Chicken is celebrating half a century of business in Japan this year.

And as they've done since 1984, KFC shops across the country dressed up their Col. Sanders statues (yes, in Japan, that's a thing) in a suit of armor and helmet to celebrate Children's Day (formerly known as Boys' Day) on May 5th. The Col. Sanders statues usually placed in front of the store to welcome customers often get makeovers to match the season. For example, in December, they're often dressed in a Santa Claus outfit. And for Children's Day, it's armor. Each store is free to come up with its own interpretation, either representing a well-known bushō 武将 ('armored general') or an original design.

However, this year, as KFC stores were preparing for their usual Children's Day makeover, the danger of the novel coronavirus pandemic was growing. Indeed, the number of daily infections peaked nationwide at 743 on April 12th. Combined with the 50th Year Anniversary, these circumstances filled many KFC shopowners with a strong resolve imparting a much deeper meaning to the yearly custom. Not only was it an opportunity for the shops to express their gratitude to the communities they serve, but it was also an opportunity to motivate and inspire, displaying a "fighting spirit" in the face of the pandemic.

Moreover, as we've introduced before, the Japanese tradition of displaying warrior dolls, or Gogatsu Ningyo, syncs up with this perfectly, since they are meant to be symbols of courage and power, embodying hopes for good fortune and protection from disease and evil.

Three examples of Col. Sanders in Japanese armor

Without talking to the manager, you usually have no way of knowing what specifically motivated the employees to design their armor decoration. But KFC Japan has collected messages this year and listed them in their press release. We've chosen three (from left to right in the image below):

The employees got together and contributed ideas. All of us wanted to see our customers smile ... so we came up with this design. Our model was Mitsuhide Akechi who built the city around Fukuchiyama Castle.

Fukuchiyama Store, Kyoto Prefecture

We want to see our customers smile, so we made this with the hope: 'Let's not let the coronavirus defeat us and let's fight together!' Our design is inspired by our manager's family name, which has the kanji akai (red) in it, so we made it a red version of Date Masamune.

Nakagawa Store, Fukuoka Prefecture

While celebrating KFC Japan's 50th anniversary, we want the customers who visit our store to be happy. Those are the feelings we put into our design.

Fuji Grand Kitajima Store, Tokushima Prefecture

An army of Colonels

In their press release, KFC displayed a composite representing a sample of the over 30 KFC stores which participated:

The Col. Sanders statues are back to their normal appearance now, but maybe next year, when you visit a KFC store in Japan, you'll have a different appreciation of what goes into these special decorations. And if that brings a smile to your face, it will all have been worth it.

By - Ben K.