Saturday, December 1, 2007
Here's a somewhat lighter story for the weekend after yet another week filled with international economic strife and turmoil. It partly concerns the resurgence of the infamous "Curse of the Colonel" in Japan. You might not be aware of the fate of the Japanese baseball team the Hanshin Tigers. In 1985, the perennially underperforming Tigers inexplicably went on to win the Japan Championship Series, the first and only time it has done so. Rabid Hanshin Tigers fan had (have?) a tradition of celebrating their team's success by jumping into the nearby, heavily polluted Dotonbori River. As they sing the team fight song, they call out each player's name, and the fan whose likeness most resembles that of the player called jumps into the river. After winning the championship, fans were celebrating in understandably high spirits until they called out the name of Randy Bass, an American with MLB experience who was the reigning Japanese league MVP. Unsurprisingly, no one in the crowd resembled the bearded, Caucasian player.
The nearest thing Tigers fans could spot that resembled Randy Bass was a nearby plastic replica of one Colonel Sanders at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. In their excitement, they chucked the good colonel into the Dotonbori. The day after, the polite Japanese fans realized their excesses and apologized to the KFC store owner, vowing to fish the good colonel out of the Dotonbori and return him to his rightful place peddling chicken to Japanese diners. Unfortunately, the colonel was never found. For eighteen straight years afterwards, the Tigers recorded losing seasons. Up to now, the team has yet to return to the Japan Championship Series. And thus a curse was born that's far more hilarious than anything the Chicago Cubs have had to endure.
This brings me to the current manifestation of the curse on KFC. Japanese zaibatsu (conglomerate) Mitsubishi has decided to acquire a larger stake in the Japanese operation of KFC. Before being able to do so, though, Mitsubishi has been cursed by attention from the US-based animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The group is famous for making publicity stunts to get its message across, and this current battle for chicken supremacy has made some waves in Japan. While I am, on the balance, sympathetic with some of PETA goals of more humane treatment of animals, its methods are sometimes questionable. In any event, the "Curse of the Colonel" seems to cut both ways at the baseball franchise and the chicken franchise as well. From Singapore's Straits Times:
Japan's largest trading house on Wednesday rebutted a request by animal rights activists to reconsider its plan to take a controlling stake in the Japanese operations of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). The US-based rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) wrote a letter to Mitsubishi Corp. urging it to reconsider its plan to spend US$120 million dollars (S$ 173 million) to take control of KFC Japan.
KFC has become one of Japan's most popular fast-food chains since it first established itself here in 1970, marketing itself as a 'traditional' US food for holidays and many Japanese buy fried chicken on Christman Eve. But Peta accuses KFC suppliers of mistreating chickens.
'KFC's suppliers force chickens to live in filthy conditions where many suffer ammonia burns on their skin as well as crippling injuries from being bred to grow so large so fast that their weak legs cannot support their massive upper bodies,' Peta director Jason Baker wrote in the letter, which was given to media. 'They scald millions of birds alive in feather-removal tanks and cut the throats of billions of birds while they are still conscious,' he added.
Mitsubishi said there were no plans to withdraw the tender offer. 'I'm not sure whether (Mitsubishi) and Peta have a common understanding of the issue,' said a company spokesman. Mitsubishi already has a stake of 31.11 per cent in KFC Japan and plans to buy an equal sized stake from US-based KFC, a subsidiary of Yum Brands. Mitsubishi Corp also distributes chickens and other ingredients to the 1,500 restaurants in Japan of KFC and Pizza Hut, which is operated by KFC.
KFC dismisses Peta's claims of chicken cruelty and says it has undertaken studies to ensure that its suppliers use the most humane form of slaughter. The US-based rights group is famous for its publicity stunts in campaigning for animal rights. Last month it launched a successful campaign to persuade Miss Universe - Japan's Riyo Mori - to stop wearing fur.