Sukiyaki – Kyu Sakamoto

THIS DAY IN MUSIC……………………………………..on June 15th of 1963 twenty-one year old Kyu Sakamoto became the first Japanese artist to hit the top of the US singles chart with a song called “Sukiyaki”. It was also a #6 hit in the UK. The original title of the song was “Ue O Muite Aruko”, which translates “I Look Up When I Walk”. 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 three weeks and also held the top spot on the Adult Contemporary chart for five weeks. 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. 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. Sadly Kyu Sakamoto was one of 520 people who died in a Japan Airlines crash in 1985. He was 43.