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Sukiyaki

by

Kyu Sakamoto



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This song has a remarkable story - it's a Japanese hit that became wildly popular in America despite Japanese lyrics that hardly anyone in the US could understand. Kyu Sakamoto was a star in Japan as both an actor and a singer, and this song, known in his country as "Ue O Muite Aruko," was a #1 hit there in 1961.

Sometime in 1962, a British music executive named Louis Benjamin heard the song when he was traveling in Japan, and he had his group Kenny Ball & his Jazzmen record an instrumental version that made it to #10 on the UK charts. Benjamin renamed the song "Sukiyaki" after a Japanese food he enjoyed - a one-pot dish made with sliced beef, tofu, noodles and vegetables.

The song made it to America when a disk jockey in Washington state heard the British version, and started playing the original by Sakamoto. He used the title "Sukiyaki," which was much more palatable to Americans than "Ue O Muite Aruko," and requests started pouring in for the song. Capitol Records obtained the American rights to the song and released it stateside, where it went to #1 on the Hot 100 for 3 weeks and also held the top spot on the Adult Contemporary chart for 5 weeks.

So how did this American disc jockey get a copy of the original song? Marsha Cunningham gave us the answer. She explained to us:
"In 1961-2 I was a high school student at The American School In Japan, living in Zushi, Japan. My dad was a pilot for Japan Airlines. While enjoying a Japanese movie staring Kyu Sakamoto, I heard the most unbelievably beautiful song. I purchased the record at a local shop and brought it back to the states the next year when I attended a girl's boarding school in Sierra Madre, CA. I played it in the dormitory frequently; everyone liked it. One girl took my record home with her on the weekend so her dad could play it on his radio station, and the rest is history!"
The Japanese lyrics are about sadness and isolation; the original title means "I look up when I walk."
In 1963, the Country singer Clyde Beavers arranged to have an official of the Japanese embassy (J.S. Shima) translate the lyrics into English. Although Beavers' "Sukiyaki" did not chart, A Taste of Honey made it to #3 in the US with their English lyric version in 1981. A Taste Of Honey was a Disco group who had a hit in 1978 with "Boogie Oogie Oogie." Their bass player/vocalist Janice Marie Johnson came up with the English lyrics for their version. She didn't translate the song literally, but kept the mood of the song with lyrics about a love that was taken away.
Kyu Sakamoto was one of 520 people who died in a Japan Airlines crash in 1985. He was 43.
Learn more about how this song came to America and what it's like to be an American in Japan in Song Images.
The R&B group 4 P.M. (For Positive Music) covered this in 1995 with the same English lyrics that A Taste Of Honey used. Their version went to #8 in the US.
This is the only song by a Japanese artist, and the only song with lyrics entirely in Japanese, to hit #1 in the United States.
This isn't the first foreign language song to hit #1 in America - that would be "Nel Blu, Dipinto di Blu (Volare)" by Domenico Modugno in 1958. That one was in Italian and kept at least part of the original title.
Slick Rick boosted the chorus from the A Taste Of Honey version for an interlude in "La Di Da Di," his 1985 song with Doug E. Fresh.
Kyu Sakamoto
More Kyu Sakamoto songs
More songs that were also recorded in other languages
More songs about loneliness or isolation
More songs that were hits for more than one artist
More songs with whistling

Comments (30):

Ah, I know this song!!
Actually, my first exposure was a cover of a cover of this song - the Spanish version done by the Tejano musician Selena, whose father was a fan of A Taste of Honey and translated their lyrics from English.
Like Kyu Sakamoto, she she died too young. :((
- jdnslngsht, Chicago, IL
On February 14th 1981, Taste of Honey performed *"Sukiyaki" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
Two weeks later on March 1st it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #83; and on June 7th it peaked at #3 (for 3 weeks) and spent 8 weeks on the Top 10 (it spent a total of 22 weeks on the Top 100)...
It reached #1 (for 1 week) on May 3rd, 1981 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
And on May 10th, 1981 it also peaked at #1 (for 2 weeks) on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart...
Eighteen years earlier Kyu Sakamoto took the original version to #1 (for 3 weeks) on June 9th, 1963...
Sadly, Mr. Sakamoto died on August 12th, 1985 at the young age of 43 (airplane crash)...
* Roughly translated to English it means 'I Look Up As I Walk'.
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
I loved this catchy song when I first heard it in 1963. But never have known the English lyrics. I guess it's called pop, since it definitely is not rock & roll! In 1963, I loved songs by Chubby Checker, The Beach Boys, and Sam Cooke, mainly because of the big beat & the popular teen themes on their recordings. But this one hardly has a beat at all. I think it caught on in the USA because of the melody being so sweet. It was a good break from some of the nonsense & foolishness of "Surfing Bird" "Danke Shoen," and "Papa Ooo Mau Mau" hit the radio airwaves.
- BubblesK, Memphis, TN
Since then, no Asian artistes has ever cracked the US Top Ten charts until now with PSY's Oppa Gangnam Style !
- Adrian, Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Sukiyaki was probably the perfect name for the song. It let everybody know what the song was about. Nobody knew what the lyrics were about, but a lot of us knew it was Japanese because of the name - Sukiyaki. I was about 5 -1/2 years old when the song came out, but I remember this song. The song was huge. Ah-sooo, beddy, beddy nice.
- Johnny, Spring Lake, MI
I believe "China Nights" was Kyu Sakamoto's follow up hit to "Sukiyaki" in 1963. It made it to #58 in the states, but probably did pretty well in Japan back then.
- Johnny, Spring Lake, MI
I was in the Navy and in Japan in 56 an 57 I would to know if there is any connection between a song tittled China Nights and Sukiyaki ?
- james, hopewell, NJ
I remember this song on the radio when I was very young, and to this day, I can't hear it without vivid images of that time and the house and neighourhood I lived in.
- Marlene, Montreal, QC
I have always loved this song but hardly ever hear it. Thanks for all the information on the artist. Now I know where to come to listen any time I want.
- Nancy, Biglerville, PA
I came upon this site after I googled a question on a trivia game. There was much debate I noticed about the plane crash involving flight JAL 123. So I rearched it. If you go to http://www.airdisaster.com/special/special-jal123.shtml. It will tell you what happened. It was not shot down, which some have said.
- nichole, Coffeyville, KS
OK, Bill from Dallas, you really need to check your facts before you say something like that. JAL 123 was not shot down. It was a mechanical failure that was the result of an odd series of events. 7 years prior, the 747 had been involved in a tail-strike incident, not accident, and to us pilots there is a difference between the two. The rear pressure bulkhead, basically a wall that holds in the stabilized pressure so that you can have a comfortable flight, was repaired in a way that would make most A&P's(airplane mechanics) vomit. As a result, 7 years later JAL 123 was doing a routine domestic flight, they got to cruise altitude 12 minutes after takeoff, the norm, then the pilots reported hearing a loud "bang." The bulkhead failed and that caused the aircraft to decompress rapidly, explosive decompression. That is when all the high pressure air in the cabin has to get outside to the low pressure air. The violence of the decompression ripped the vertical stabilizer off, which means they lost all rudder control due to not actually having a rudder. The pilots, although dead, should be commended, because they did manage to gain control of the dying aircraft and they attempted to conduct an emergency landing at a US Air Force base. Kyu Sakamoto was an acomplished pilot so by this point he knew he was going to die. You dont bring a plane back from that kind of damage usually. He wrote something for his wife on a napkin which was later found with his body. The damage had also caused a hydraulic leak, which the pilots were unaware of at first. Several minutes into the emergency descent, they lost all power to the control surfaces. They did manage to regain control of the aircraft yet again, this time by using the throttle to turn and gain altitude. They managed to make it within 20 miles of the base, but unfortunately, they crashed into a mountain and all but 4 people on board died. Nowhere during the incident did the Soviets show up to shoot down the 747. If they had, it would have been messed up because they were in Japanese airspace. I enjoy reading the comments here and all the little facts you can learn, but do some research first so that you aren't misleading people in an attempt to feel intelligent. This was a horrific tragedy and handing out false facts is a total discredit to the pilots and passengers, all who knew they were probably going to die and had a long, long time to think about it before it happened.
- Jas, Clifton, TX
If the song were to be renamed, I think Sake would be more appropriate than Sukiyaki as the song is about a jilted lover.

A jilted person would logically drown his sorrow by drinking sake !
- Adrian, Johor Bahru, Malaysia
This song was written in 1961 for the recital of Hachidai Nakamura, the pianist and composer of this song. So, nobody could have heard this song before then.
The song by a female singer that Bob from Baltimore and Francis from Ottawa remember hearing must have been a different song.
This song was featured on the TV program called in Japanese "Yume de Aimashou" (Let's Meet in Dreams) in October and November, 1961.
Shizuo, Tokyo, Japan
- SHIZUO, TOKYO, Japan
This song came out when I was 6 years old. It has been my favorite song for 46 years. It brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.
- ken, brighton, MI
One of the most beautiful but sad songs ever.
- Brenda, Calgary, AB
The plane crash in 1985 may or may not have been a soviet shoot down - we will never really know will we.
- BILL, Originally Toledo, OH
Sorry to blow the whole myth about the plane being shot down by the Russians, but if you check the facts, the plane suffered a rear bulkhead failure that resulted from prior, on the ground accident, that weakened the airframe. The crew lost all ability to control the descent, which took about 40 minutes to hit the ground. Many of the passengers had time to write final farewells to the families before the crash. A sad end to all, but the Russians had nothing to do with it.
- John, Roseville, CA
does anyone know if this song was used for a TVshow during the 60's?
- bob, charleston, SC
I also seem to remember an earlier version from the 50s sung in Japanese by a female. Anyone have any knowledge of this version and how I could get a copy?
- Francis, Ottawa, ON
This is the song that was #1 on the charts the day I got married, June 15, 1963. Kyu Sakamoto was born the same year as my husband and I was born a year later so we were contemporaries of Sakamoto.
Recently, before leaning these facts I developed an intense interest in Jpop-Jrock music, especially the Japanese Artists Gackt and Hyde (I like Rain also but he is Korean)All three of these singers have much more beautiful voices than Kyu Sakamoto, not to say that his rendition of the song wasn't a good one. Especially Gackt's voice is phenominal, beautiful. I see no reason why one of these Asian Artists or some other one could not have a #1 hit worldwide. And why didn't that idiot rename it Sayonara rather than Sukiyaki", it was a crime to give such a beautiful ballad that stupid name.
- Trudy, Livermore, CA
Sakamoto died in the 1985 crash of Japan Airlines flight 123 when part of the tail section came apart. Korean Air flight 007 was shot down by a Soviet fighter on Sept 1, 1983.
- Mike, LaFayette, GA
It's hard to believe but when this song was on the charts John F. Kennedy was President. It's true that Kyu Sakamoto died with over 500 other innocent people when their Japan Airlines jet was blown out of the sky by a Russian fighter pilot who launched an air to air missle at the civilian airliner. The Russian says he thought it was an American spy plane. What was left of the aircraft and passengers went down in the South China Sea. Since the JAL aircraft was above 32,00 ft. when hit there were no survivors. It wasn't just a plane crash. It was totally unnecessary act of agression. RIP
- Bill, Dallas, TX
My hobby is music of the sixties. In the summer of 1963 I heard a beautiful song in a language I had never heard before. This was Sukiyaki or Ue wo muite arukou, sung by Kyu Sakamoto. Hearing this song, to me, was the ultimate musical experience. At that time I was still attending school, and after saving my pocket-money for a long time I bought a Linguaphone-course to learn Japanese to be able to understand the lyrics of Sukiyaki. After finishing school I graduated in Japanese Language and Culture at Leiden University. I have always wanted to tell Kyu Sakamoto personally how much his song meant to me, but unfortunately he died in a plane-crash. Although I have heard many beautiful Japanese songs ever since, this song will always be very important to me. I own two single issues with different flipsides; Ano ko no namae wa nanten kana and Tankobushi, and from Japan I obtained a special issue of Sukiyaki and a Memory Album with the greatest hits of Kyu Sakamoto, issued after his tragic death. In the sixties Kyu Sakamoto issued a new version of the song with a Doo whop choir added to it, but I think this version is too westernized and it has lost the magic of the original song.
Mieke, The Netherlands.
- mieke, Leiden, Netherlands
The lyrics sung by A Taste Of Honey are NOT the literal interpretation of this hit, as lots of listeners think they are. THESE are:

Ue o muite arukoo
I look up when I walk
Namida ga kobore nai yoo ni
So the tears won't fall
Omoidasu haru no hi
Remembering those happy spring days
Hitoribotchi no yoru
But tonight I'm all alone
Ue o muite arukoo
I look up when I walk
Nijinda hoshi o kazoete
Counting the stars with tearful eyes
Omoidasu natsu no hi
Remembering those happy summer days
Hitoribotchi no yoru
But tonight I'm all alone
Shiawase wa kumo no ue ni
Happiness lies beyond the clouds
Shiawase wa sora no ue ni
Happiness lies above the sky
Ue o muite arukoo
I look up when I walk
Namida ga kobore nai yoo ni
So the tears won't fall
Nakinagara aruku
Though my heart is filled with sorrow Hitoribotchi no yoru
For tonight I'm all alone
(whistling)
Omoidasu aki no hi
Remembering those happy autumn days
Hitoribotchi no yoru
But tonight I'm all alone
Kanashimi wa hoshi no kage ni
Sadness hides in the shadow of the stars
Kanashimi wa tsuki no kage ni
Sadness lurks in the shadow of the moon
Ue o muite arukoo
I look up when I walk
Namida ga kobore nai yoo ni
So the tears won't fall
Nakinagara aruku Though my heart is filled with sorrow Hitoribotchi no yoru For tonight I'm all alone
(whistling)
- Leya Qwest, Anchorage, AK
I remember looking up info about this artist years ago only to discover his sad fate in that plane crash. Also, upon learning that the song was about someone looking up when they walk I thought it was about a person happy in life. But perhaps not...
- James, Vidalia, GA
I've always resented this song being called "Sukiyaki". Did they think we could only relate to a Japanese song if they slapped a familiar word on it? It would be like recording a love ballad in English for the Japanese market and calling it "Cheeseburger"!
- Frank, Westminster, SC
I first heard this song in Sasebo Japan in the spring of 1952. I was in the Navy on an ammo ship during the Korean Conflict and Sasebo was our home port.We would be in Sasebo from Korea every 30 days for about 2 weeks at a time to load up.

The song, which I heard many times after, was on a record and was sung in Japanese by a young girl, who's voice I fell in love with. Don't know her name but she had a beautiful voice. Bawlmer Bob
- BOB, BALTIMORE, MD
At the End of the version by A Taste Of Honey, if you listen very carefully, you can here the lead singer softly whisper, "Sayonara!"
- Annabelle, Eugene, OR
The 4PM release was NOT this song. They used the tune, but not a real translation of the words, which are far more haunting and wistful. The close translation can be found online (search for "I look up when I walk"). Lyrics were by Rokosuke Ei.
- Keith, SLC, UT
I thought this song maybe about a guy who got turned down, or broke up with his g/f. Japanese people are very shy and maybe didnt want people to see him cry. if he looks up he wont hurt when the tears fall (its just annoying when the tears run into your ears)
- Danielle, Spruce Grove, Canada
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