Col. Sanders' white suit auctioned for nearly $22,000
KFC's founder is a cultural icon in Japan, which is one reason why the chain's Japanese chief wanted the outfit.
Quick: What American restaurateur and fast-food icon has near-mythic status in Japan?
Ten points if you said Col. Harland Sanders.
Images of the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken can be found in many Asian countries. KFC, now part of Yum Brands (YUM), is the largest fast-food chain in China with more than 4,200 restaurants in 850 Chinese cities. And in Japan the Colonel is larger than life, with his statue guarding nearly every KFC entrance.
"Every child in Japan knows Colonel Sanders' face and his uniform," Masao "Charlie" Watanabe (pictured), president and CEO of Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan, told The Associated Press through a translator.
Over the weekend, Watanabe attended an auction in Dallas and placed the winning bid of $21,510 for one of Sanders' trademark white suits. He also purchased some of Sanders' personal effects at the auction, including his 1973 Kentucky driver's license. Watanabe plans to display the white suit at a Tokyo KFC.
KFC came to Japan in the 1970s and, thanks to a hugely popular Christmas and New Year seasonal ad campaign that captured the national imagination, is now part of the fast-food landscape there with nearly 1,200 restaurants.
Japan even has "The Curse of the Colonel" -- some bad mojo the KFC founder's spirit allegedly put on one of Japan's hard-luck baseball teams, the Hanshin Tigers of Osaka, after an infamous incident in 1985. That was when overjoyed Tiger fans, celebrating the team's national championship, grabbed a Colonel Sanders statue from a nearby KFC and threw it into the local river. (The statue reportedly bore a resemblance to one of the Tigers' American players, bearded power hitter Randy Bass -- who later became an Oklahoma state senator.)
That same year KFC used the curse to draw attention to itself and another hard-luck baseball team -- the Chicago Cubs. In an open letter to the team, KFC offered Wrigley Field the Colonel statue from Osaka.
"We are working desperately with our Japanese colleagues to bring the curse-breaking Colonel Sanders statue to your field by opening day,” said the letter.
“While we can’t promise the statue will snap curses of billy goats, black cats or even a foul-ball-interfering fan, we figure it can’t hurt."
Given both the Cubs' and Tigers' records, perhaps the lesson is this: Don't mess with the Colonel.
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