The picture that launched many entertaining descriptions.
Back when I was working in a Japanese office and correcting student (correspondence-based) homework as part of my daily duties, there was a lesson in which students were presented with a drawing of an older gentleman and asked to describe him (shown above). It was not the least bit rare for students when describing this man to say variations on several rather entertaining things:
- "He is the Uncle of Kentucky."
- "He is a dandy."
- "He is kernel thunders."
People who have lived in Japan and especially those who have been English teachers, probably have a clue what these statements are about. For those who don't know, the answer is in the picture below.
Click this picture to see a larger, more detailed picture. Note the poster of a Japan-only KFC food monstrosity to the right of the statue. It's a "mince nan sandwich" (a breaded, deep-fried cutlet full of fatty minced meat served on Indian-style bread). Note the proud display on the burger of the 4th Japanese food group, mayonnaise.
In front of most KFCs in Japan, there is a statue of the Colonel so nearly every Japanese person is familiar with his likeness, though they aren't necessarily all that clear on his name if the reports I corrected are any reflection of reality. It's my guess that Colonel Saunders's visage is so well-known that any older-looking foreign man with glasses, a suit, white hair and a mustache may bring him to mind.
The statues of the Colonel that I've seen are always clean and very well-kept. The one in the previous picture is so clean that it's super shiny. I imagine that these same sorts of statues would be vandalized rather badly if they were in the U.S. and left out in front of shops overnight. Mind you, it's not that there's no vandalism in Japan, but either the Colonel is not a big target for it or he is quickly cleaned up if it occurs (or they block access to him through gates that they pull down after closing).
I'm not sure why the Japanese franchise owners decided to put statues of the Colonel in front of nearly every shop, but, if I had to guess, I'd think it had something to do with the fact that Ronald McDonald statues used to be in front of a lot of McDonald's. It could be that they felt KFC needed a similar, easily recognizable icon associated with its food.
This papier mache "Hello Kitty" stays in front of this tea shop year round. The owners just change her wardrobe to reflect the changing seasons and holidays. In summer, she wears a bikini and it's frankly a little creepy.
It could also be that the Japanese, in general, have a habit of putting out statues of their corporate mascots in front of shops to attract attention or raise brand awareness. There used to be a Fujiya sweets shop near one of our local stations and a statue of the Fujiya girl ("Peko-chan") licking her upper lip in anticipation of a tasty Fujiya-made treat was placed in front of it. I've also seen statues of various lesser-known mascots in front of other miscellaneous establishments such as a cutesy elephant in front of a drug store and, of course, the omnipresent "Hello Kitty" often shows up in an unofficial capacity.
I wouldn't be surprised if the Colonel, in all his overly-stylized glory, is rather rare as a mascot in Japan that is based on a real (or even fake) person. In fact, I had a discussion with a student last week about Betty Crocker and how a fair number of American mascots resemble real people (or are based on real people) whereas almost all Japanese ones are based on cartoons or cartoon-like images. It's a difference that we don't tend to notice because corporate mascots are part of the background noise of marketing to which we're exposed, though we are all quite aware of and familiar with them in our respective cultures.