The story behind the #1 hit song Sukiyaki

  • Song Sukiyaki has a remarkable story behind it – being a Japanese hit that became popular in the US even with having lyrics in Japanese that no one in the states could understand. The actor and singer Kyu Sakamoto was a star, and this song, known in Japan as “Ue O Muite Aruko,” was a #1 hit in 1961.

    First it was brought to the UK by a British music executive named Louis Benjamin in 1962 in an instrumental version. Renaming the song to “Sukiyaki” after a Japanese dish he enjoyed – made with sliced beef, tofu, noodles and vegetables, later on it moved to the US thanks to a DJ, who used the original song by Sakamoto, but kept the new song title “Sukiyaki”, since that was easier to remember, than “Ue O Muite Aruko”.
    It was #1 on the Hot 100 for 3 weeks and on the Adult Contemporary chart for 5 weeks.

    Despite being the only song with lyrics entirely in Japanese, it is the only song by a Japanese artist to hit #1 in the United States.

    It made it even to Germany in 1963 as a remake, with German lyrics, covered by the band “Blue Diamonds”.

    “Ue O Muite Aruko” means “Let’s look up and walk” and is a song with lyrics about sadness and isolation. It is often stated that this song is to encourage people not to look back at the sad past of WW2 and its aftermath, but to be positive and have hope for the future. Ironically, the lyrics have been written by Rokusuke Ei, who was protesting against the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, and was frustrated when the protest movement failed.

    The beautiful melody and the story behind it is surely one good reason why everyone should hear it at least once. It is also a good motivational songs, even if you do not know the lyrics, it will definitely make you happy!