You can probably count on one hand the number of foreign language songs that made it to the top of the charts in the U.S. In 1963 a song from Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto made it to the U.S. and reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The song sold over 13 million copies.
The song's title was Ue o Muite Aruko or translated into English, "I Look Up as I Walk".
The story goes that British record producer Louis Benjamin heard the song on a visit to Japan but was concerned that westerners would not be able to identify with the title. Sukiyaki, a famous Japanese beef dish that Benjamin had eaten several times during his visit, was familiar to his English-speaking audience. So, he renamed the song Sukiyaki and released it in the U.K. as a instrumental. Eventually the song was released with Sakamoto’s Japanese lyrics. The title has nothing to do with the songs content or lyrics.
The soft lyrics could easily be mistaken for a love song. But in fact tells a story of a man who was saddened by the outcome of a failed student protest. As he walks home, he whistles to keep himself from weeping over his disappointment. Ue o Muite Aruko has a haunting melody and a lyric that urges you to sing along even though you don’t understand what you are saying.
Like so many rock and pop stars of the time Kyu Sakamoto died at a young age. He was killed in August of 1985 in a plane crash.
Hungry for some Sukiyaki?