By: Kyu Sakamoto (born Hisashi Oshima on December 10, 1941 in Kawasaki, Japan, died August 12, 1985).
Kyu Sakamoto was a Japanese singer and actor best known internationally for his recording of "Ue wo muite arukō", more commonly known as "Sukiyaki", which was sung in Japanese and sold over 13 million copies worldwide.
Sakamoto was the ninth child of a Toko restaurant owner. His nickname of Kyu, meaning 'nine', is an alternate reading of the kanji (the Japanese pictorial writing system) for his given name of Hisashi.
Kyu started singing in jazz clubs while still a high school student, and eventual dropped out of school to pursue singing. In 1959, at the age of eighteen, Kyu signed with a talent company in Tokyo looking for a "boy-next-door" type. He was signed to a recording contract with Toshiba Records.
By 1963, Sakamoto was very popular in Japan, having had 15 singles and eight albums that were best-sellers there. He had also appeared in ten movies and was on seven different weekly TV shows and two radio shows.
The real title of the song is "Ue O Muite Aruko", which translates "I Look Up When I Walk". Louis Benjamin, the head of Britain's Pye records, brought the song to English jazz musician Kenny Ball after hearing the song while in Japan on business in 1962. Since British DJs were not likely going to pronounce the real title correctly, Pye records released the single under the Japanese name "Sukiyaki", a Japanese dish consisting of thin beef strips cooked with onions, greens and soy sauce. A Newsweek music critic pointed out at the time that this was like releasing "Moon River" in Japan with the title "Beef Stew".
American DJ Rich Osborne of station KORD in Pasco, Washington, got a copy of Kyu Sakamoto's original version and played it on his show. Listeners began requesting the song, and the station started playing it regularly. Soon after Capitol Records picked up distribution rights and released it under its British title of "Sukiyaki". It became the second song sung in a foreign language to top the Hot 100 (the other was "Volare" by Domenico Modugno.)
Sadly, Kyu Sakamoto died on-board Japan Airlines Flight 123, which killed over 500 people when it crashed into a mountain outside of Tokyo on August 12, 1985. Found among the wreckage of this plane was a "goodbye note" addressed to his wife that Kyu had time to write knowing what would be his fate in moments. He was 43 years old.
Chart position: #1 (US, three weeks), #6 (UK).
"Sukiyaki" remains the only Japanese-language song to hit #1 in the United States. It was also the first Japanese-language song to appear on the UK charts.
It sold over one million copies in the US.
The Top Ten Songs: June 15, 1963 (US Billboard Hot 100).
- "Sukiyaki" (Kyu Sakamoto)
- "It's My Party" (Lesley Gore)
- "You Can't Sit Down" (Dovells)
- "Da Doo Ron Ron" (Crystals)
- "I Love You Because" (Al Martino)
- "Blue on Blue" (Bobby Vinton)
- "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer" (Nat King Cole)
- "Still" (Bill Anderson)
- "Hello Stranger" (Barbara Lewis)
- "18 Yellow Roses" (Bobby Darin)
Written by: Hachidai Nakamura (music) and Rokusuke Ei (lyrics).
The lyrics were inspired by Rokusuke Ei's breakup with actress Meiko Nakamura.
They translate into English as: "I look up when I walk, so the tears won't fall, remembering those happy spring days, but tonight I'm all alone. I look up when I walk, counting the stars with tearful eyes, remembering those happy summer days, but tonight I'm all alone. Happiness lies beyond the clouds, happiness lies above the sky. I look up when I walk, so the tears won't fall, though my heart is filled with sorrow, for tonight I'm all alone. Remembering those happy autumn days, but tonight I'm all alone. Sadness hides in the shadow of the stars, sadness lurks in the shadow of the moon. I look up when I walk, so the tears won't fall, though my heart is filled with sorrow, for tonight I'm all alone."
Also by: Country singer Clyde Beavers, whose English-translated version, titled "My First Lonely Night", reached #21 (US Country); A Taste of Honey, whose version, also with English lyrics but different from Beavers' version, reached #3 in 1981; a cappella group 4 P.M., whose version reached #8 in 1994.
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