The man who made KFC so popular at Christmas brought a taste of Kentucky to Japan in more ways than one.

Back in 1970, Takeshi Okawara, the manager of Japan’s first KFC restaurant, introduced customers to the idea of eating fried chicken at Christmas, and since then the Colonel’s fried chicken has grown to enjoy widespread popularity as the nation’s traditional festive meal.

While that aspect of the chain’s history has been well documented, that wasn’t the only gift Okawara gave the country in his role as KFC’s greatest promoter in Japan. Okawara — who now serves as the CEO of food manufacturing company Del Sole — was so impressed by Colonel Sanders’ ranch in the Commonwealth of Kentucky that he opened a similar restaurant up in Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido.

▼ The restaurant is called Harvester Yakumo.

Harvester Yakumo has been described as a “KFC test farm”, where they work to improve the quality and taste of KFC chickens, and it’s highly lauded by locals as a place to enjoy a taste of Kentucky Fried Chicken, outside of its usual fast food surroundings.

It’s a little off the beaten path, though, so the best way to get there is by car, or by taxi from Yakumo, the nearest train station.

Our reporter Seiji Nakazawa took a cab from Yakumo Station to the restaurant recently, taking time to enjoy the scenery during the ten-minute journey.

The hills and white birch trees made Seiji feel like he was in a European country, and as he drew closer to his destination, he began to make out a building at the top of a hill.

The driver told him this was Harvester Yakumo, the birthplace of “herb chicken”, and when he was dropped off at the front of the restaurant, Seiji could see a sign that proved exactly that.

▼ “The birthplace of Herb Chicken”

According to the sign, herb chicken is essentially chicken that’s been raised on feed that includes herbs. While KFC Japan prides itself on only using chicken grown domestically, the chain doesn’t mention the use of herb chicken, so it looked like Seiji was in for a high-class KFC-esque experience.

Upon stepping through the front door, the relationship between this restaurant and KFC was clear to see, with a large panel describing the history of Okawara and Harvester Yakumo. According to the details, the concept of this restaurant was influenced by the Colonel, inspired not only by the taste of his fried chicken but also the way of life and philosophy of the KFC founder.

▼ “The easy way becomes harder, and the hard way becomes easier”

However, this is Japan, where nothing is as straightforward as it seems, so Harvester Yakumo is technically classified as an Italian restaurant.

▼ For that reason, dishes such as pizza and pasta appear on the menu…

▼ …but don’t you worry, fried chicken is firmly on the menu too.

The ordering system is a bit like a cafeteria or udon chain restaurant, where you first pick up a tray and proceed to a long counter to place your main order, before serving yourself fried chicken and sides like salads from the display cases.

After paying for your meal, you then take your tray to an empty table in the dining area.

Seiji is not ashamed to say that when he sat down, his tray was filled with nothing but chips and chicken.

While the price of fried chicken starts at 295 yen (US$2.22) each, there’s also a “Harvester Set” for 715 yen that includes chips and two pieces of fried chicken. That’s what Seiji ended up going with, and he couldn’t resist trying the “Ethnic Chicken” as well, for 420 yen.

Unlimited non-alcoholic drinks can be had at the drink bar for 420 yen, but Seiji was much too eager to try the chicken so he skipped the drink bar and got straight to eating.

The fried chicken in the Harvester Set looked just like KFC fried chicken, and upon taking a bite, he felt an instant sense of déjà vu, as the taste of the herbs and spices was identical to KFC! The meat seemed softer and juicier than usual, though, making the contrast between meat and crispy skin seem even more delicious.

As for the “Ethnic Chicken” — the word “ethnic” is usually used in the Japanese food world to describe Southeast Asian dishes — it was sweet and salty, with a hint of sweet chilli sauce in the flavour profile.

▼ Surprisingly large and incredibly delicious.

Both dishes tasted fantastic, but Seiji couldn’t help but notice something distracting him from his meal as he ate.

▼ What kept distracting him was…the view out the window.

Hokkaido is beautiful and spacious at the best of times, but there was something incredibly special about this hilltop location. A vast field could be seen outside the window, and after blinking a couple of times, Seiji realised that beyond that was the vast expanse of the sea.

This spot on the hill might not be well-known as a famous scenic spot in Hokkaido, but it ought to be.

The windswept beauty of the location is part of what makes the restaurant a must-visit spot for any traveller to Hokkaido, but it’s the meals they serve inside that really draws visitors.

Harvester Yakumo first began in 1988 as a place to raise chickens, after Okawara learnt that the Colonel himself grew vegetables and raised chickens in a field behind his own restaurant.

That dream of bringing the Colonel’s way of life to Japan has certainly come true here on this hill in Hokkaido. Now all it needs is its own Samurai Colonel to really complete the picture!

Restaurant information
Harvester Yakumo / ハーベスター八雲
Address: Hokkaido-ken, Futami-gun, Yakumo-cho, Hamamatsu 365
Open 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. (weekdays) 11:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. (Sat, Sun, and public holidays) Last orders 30 minutes before closing)
Closed: Mondays from December to February (Tuesdays if Mon is a public holiday), year-end and New Year’s holidays
*All-you-can-eat plans are currently available on weekends from December through to 26 March, priced at 750 yen for children up to age four, 1,550 yen for elementary school students, 1,950 yen for people over 70, and 2,550 yen for all other ages.

Images © SoraNews24
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