Saturday, 25 February 2012

Kyu Sakamoto-The original singer for the vastly popular Japanese song "Sukiyaki"

A youthful looking, smiling Kyu Sakamoto as seen
 in this B&W photo to promote his songs
                                 Kyu Sakamoto and his sister. He was the
                                     youngest of 9 children in the family.

In the 1960s the Japanese song named “Sukiyaki” was immensely popular amongst the pop crazed youngsters. It hit the listening pop scene at the radio stations by storm quickly and no sooner it was selling to the tune of 10million records, and it peaked at 13million copies eventually. It was in June 1963 when Sukiyaki the super Japanese hit reached no. 1 at the US BillBoard Hit 100. The singer Kyu Sakamoto 坂本 was an energetic, passionate singer with his own brand of chic and hic in his 60s’ flamboyant style captured millions of young hearts especially his country’s screaming girls. His name ‘Kyu’ meant that he was the number 9th child born into the family. (His mother remarried and so he had few natural and half brothers and sisters.) Japan was recovering gradually yet surely from the aftermath of the World War Two. The presence of the US military force was an eventual phenomenon after the nation’s disastrous defeat when it was bestowed with two mass destructive atomic bombs, one each at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The phenomenal success of the song 'Sukiyaki' surprised the Westerners.

The original record cover for Sukiyaki
He looked just like any aspiring young Asian
 man who wanted to excel in popular music

When the owner of the British Pye Records, Louis Benjamin visited Japan in 1963 he found the song Ue o muite arukō" ("I look up when I walk") catchy and could easily be followed to sing along. A bemused Benjamin brought the song back to UK to try his luck and almost immediately the song hit Europe and the US shore with immense popularity. Louis Benjamin changed the name of the song to a more acceptable title ‘Sukiyaki’ though the word had got nothing to do with the song. ‘Sukiyaki’ could mean the name of a favorite household dish of ‘steam-boat’ for the Japanese in the winter.  Since the song enjoyed a maiden international success, Kyu Sakamoto began his world tour to visit Europe and the US from mid-1963 to the beginning of 1964.

                  Even whilst entering middle age, Sakamoto still exuded his
                                    charm as a handsome entertainer

Sakamoto joined a local band in 1958 when he was just 16 year old. He had learned to play the trumpet at school, and taught himself guitar and piano. Due to feuding relationship for prominence with other band members that usually ended up with fist fights, Kyu Sakamoto left the band in the same year to further his studies at a university. The study came to an abrupt end when the band ‘Danny Lida and the Paradise King’ he joined at the same time won an award with him singing as the lead singer, gaining them a contract with JVC Records. Soon after Sakamoto left the band and began his solo career in singing with a contract with Toshiba Records Company. From 1961-1985 Sakamoto enjoyed an entertainment career as solo singers untill his sudden demise in a plane crash in 1985. It was reported that he managed to scribble some lines of words to his wife and daughters moments before the tragedy took place. He married his wife Yukiko Kashiwagi in 1971. They had two daughters, Hanako and Maiko Sakamoto.

                              A happy family picture taken at a Japanese shrine

The Japanese government honoured Kyu Sakamoto for his contribution to national fame by issuing a stamp, commemorating him and the song he made famous - Sukiyaki. He was buried at the temple ground of Minato, Tokyo. 

                  His final resting place. Kyu Sakamoto was interred here at
                          Chokoku-ji Temple ground, Minato, near Tokyo.

Now let us enjoy the ever catchy, slow-tempo rock melody of ‘Sukiyaki’. Sing along and have fun, since the lyrics are there to enlighten you a bit. For the senior citizens, it’s down memory lane. For the younger folks, aren’t you game enough to try new things, listening to oldies enjoyed by your parents?

Log into the URLs and enjoy:

This youtube clip was produced in Black and White,
rather blurry, but the song played was the original stuff.
You’ll see young and suave Kyu Sakamoto singing at his best.

This youtube clip provides you the lyrics both in Romanized Japanese
and the English translation at the same time.  

This youtube clip shows how a Sunday Japanese street scene goes with the mainly youngsters showing off their best in singing and dancing, in Tokyo’s famous Yoyogi Park. There is also one White men’s band playing the song ‘Sukiyaki’. Lots of hip-hop wannabes are trying their best to gain attention.

The lyrics? Help yourself by turning on your speakers and click the Youtube URL no. 2 posted here.

Alan CY Kok


  1. Excellent information and a warm heart-felt tribute to a great entertainer. Being in the USA, I am most familiar only with the several 'remakes' of this song, in the 1960's and the 1980's. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information.

  2. 見上げるので、思い出す春の日、涙が落ちることはありませんが、今夜、私はすべてに単独で歩いている間私は歩いて涙目思い出す夏の日の星を数えるが、今夜、私はすべて一人で幸福嘘を見上げる幸せは涙が落ちることはありませんように歩いている間を見上げる空の上にある雲の向こう私泣きながら歩く私は今夜今夜私はすべてが、秋の日を覚えている単独での星を見上げる涙は私の心を該当しないように歩いている間月の影に悲しみを非表示には満ちている今夜今夜私は単独で私は一人の悲しみの影に一人で悲しみを非表示に

  3. I so well remember this song in my much younger years .. way back then. My father was In Japan as an Australian Soldier and he always had lovely thoughts and word of There. This song has such a lovely tune to it - its so smoothing. Now I am much older and father to three girls not much younger than Kyu Sakamoto's and his wife Yukiko Kashiwagi's daughters; I listen to this song regularly and FEEL for his wife and girls .. I just want to know he, and they, are not forgotten at all. .... Love From Australia.