I had almost forgotten about this song but now as I write this I remember it playing on the radio back in NYC. It is amazing that this Japanese song “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto rose up to number one on the American pop charts on June 15, 1963.
Actually the song was titled “Ue O Muite Aruk” which when translated would mean “I Look Up When I Walk” but for some reason was titled “Sukiyaki”. Perhaps someone was thinking of Japanese food at that moment.
Kyu Sakamoto was a popular singer in Japan in the late 1950s and early 1960s and this song had become a hit for him in his country. Then along came a British music executive who heard Sakamoto singing this song while he was traveling in Japan. He decided to make an instrumental recording of the song. Since he thought that the title would be hard to pronounce in English he chose to call it “Sukiyaki”. Once the instrumental rose up on the charts in the U.S. a disc jockey began playing Sakamoto’s original song on the air. Finally, Capitol Records released the song in the U.S.
Suddenly “Sukiyaki” became a hit. It makes me laugh to learn that Newsweek magazine objected to the title saying that it would be similar to a song like “Moon River” being released in Japan and titled “Beef Stew”. Now doesn’t that just make you chuckle? One way or another the song was very popular in its time and an English language version was done by A Taste of Honey in 1981. Then the English version was used by Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh in their classic hip-hop hit “La Di Da Di” in 1985.
I was interested so I checked out the singer Kyu Sakamoto. It is sad to say that he died at the age of 43 in the airline crash of Japanese Airlines Flight 123 on August 12, 1985. This flight was domestic from Tokyo to Osaka and suffered an explosive decompression crashing into the mountains.