Sukiyaki (song)

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"Ue o Muite Arukō (Sukiyaki)"
Single by Kyu Sakamoto
from the album Sukiyaki and Other Japanese Hits (US)
B-side "Anoko No Namaewa Nantenkana"
Released 1961 (Japan)
1963 (US, UK)
Format 7" vinyl
Genre Pop, Kayōkyoku, Japanese pop
Length 3:05
Label Toshiba-EMI (Japan)
Capitol (US and Canada)
Writer(s) Rokusuke Ei (lyrics)
Hachidai Nakamura (music)
Music sample

"Ue o Muite Arukō" (上を向いて歩こう?, "I Look Up As I Walk") is a Japanese-language song that was performed by Japanese crooner Kyu Sakamoto, and written by lyricist Rokusuke Ei and composer Hachidai Nakamura. Ei wrote the lyrics while walking home from a Japanese student demonstration protesting continued US Army presence, expressing his frustration at the failed efforts.[1]

In Anglophone countries, it is best known under the alternative title "Sukiyaki," a term with no relevance to the song's lyrics.

The song reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the United States in 1963, and remains to date the only Japanese-language song ever to have done so. In addition, it was and still is one of the few non-Indo-European languages' songs to have reached the top of the US charts.

It is one of the best-selling singles of all time, having sold over 13 million copies worldwide.[2][3] The original Kyu Sakamoto recording also went to number eighteen on the R&B chart.[4] In addition, the single spent five weeks at number one on the Middle of the Road charts.[5] The recording was originally released in Japan by Toshiba in 1961. It topped the Popular Music Selling Record chart in the Japanese magazine Music Life for three months, and was ranked as the number one song of 1961 in Japan.

Well-known English-language cover versions with altogether different lyrics include "My First Lonely Night" by Jewel Akens in 1966 and "Sukiyaki" by A Taste of Honey in 1980. The song has also been recorded in other languages.

Weekly charts

Chart (1961–63) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report) 1
Canada (RPM) 1
Germany (GfK Entertainment) 2
Japan (Music Life) 1
Norway (VG-lista) 1
UK (Official Charts Company)[6] 6
US Billboard Hot 100 1
US Billboard Adult Contemporary 1


The lyrics tell the story of a man who looks up and whistles while he is walking so that his tears will not fall. The verses of the song describe his memories and feelings. Rokusuke Ei wrote this song while coming back from a protest against the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan and feeling dejected about the failure of the protest movement, but the lyrics were rendered purposefully generic so that they might refer to any lost love.[7] The English-language lyrics of the version recorded by A Taste of Honey are not a translation of the original Japanese lyrics, but instead a completely different set of lyrics arranged to the same basic melody.

The title "Sukiyaki", a Japanese hot pot dish, does not appear in the song's lyrics, nor does it have any connection to them; it was used only because it was short, catchy, recognizably Japanese, and more familiar to English speakers. A Newsweek Magazine columnist noted that the re-titling was like issuing "Moon River" in Japan under the title "Beef Stew".[8]

A rough translation of lyrics: I keep my eyes to the sky as I walk, so my tear drops never fall. Remember the spring day, alone at night.

I keep my eyes to the sky as I walk, I can't count the stars through the tears. Remember the summer day, alone at night.

Happiness lies above the clouds, Happiness lies above the sky.

I keep my eyes to the sky as I walk, so my tear drops never fall. Crying while I walk, alone at night.

Remember the autumn day, alone at night.

Sorrow lies in the shadow of the stars, sorrow lies in the shadow of the moon.

I keep my eyes to the sky as I walk, so my tear drops never fall. Crying while I walk, alone at night.

Covers and variations (as "Sukiyaki")

A Taste of Honey version

Single by A Taste of Honey
from the album Twice As Sweet
Released 1981
Recorded 1980
Genre R&BQuiet Storm
Length 3:41
Label Capitol B-4953
Writer(s) Hachidai Nakamura
Janice Marie Johnson (English lyrics)
Producer(s) George Duke
A Taste of Honey singles chronology
"Rescue Me"
"I'll Try Something New"

The cover version by A Taste of Honey reached number three on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.[9] It also went to number one on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart and Soul chart.[10]

While driving around Los Angeles, Janice Marie Johnson of A Taste of Honey had heard Linda Ronstadt's hit remake of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "Ooo Baby Baby" play on the car radio with Johnson resultantly concluding that A Taste of Honey should remake a classic hit.[11] Johnson focused on Kyu Sakamoto's "Sukiyaki" which she first learned in the original Japanese. According to The Billboard Book of Number One R&B Hits by Fred Bronson, Johnson learned that the Japanese lyrics when translated to English had three possible interpretations — as the mindset of a man facing execution; as someone trying to be optimistic despite life's trials; or as the story of an ended love affair, with Johnson quoted as saying: "Me being the hopeless romantic that I am, I decided to write about a love gone bad."[citation needed] Johnson was given permission by the original song's copyright holders to write the English-language lyrics on the understanding that she receive neither official credit nor remuneration.[citation needed]

A Taste of Honey's version of "Sukiyaki" first appeared on their 1980 album, Twice As Sweet. It was released as a single in 1981.[citation needed]

Chart (1981) Peak
US Billboard Hot 100 3
US Billboard Adult Contemporary 1
US Billboard Soul Chart 1

4 P.M. version

Single by 4 P.M.
from the album Now's the Time
Released September 6, 1994
Format CD and cassette single
Recorded 1994
Length 2:42
Label London Records (UK)
Writer(s) Hachidai Nakamura
Janice Marie Johnson (English lyrics)
4 P.M. singles chronology
"Lay Down Your Love"
Music video
"Sukiyaki" on YouTube

4 P.M.'s 1994 version reached number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. The 4 P.M. version also uses the same English-language lyrics written by Janice Marie Johnson. The 4 P.M. version was a chart success in Australia, reaching number 3, and in New Zealand, reaching number 5.[citation needed]

Chart (1994–1995) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[12] 3
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[13] 5
US Billboard Hot 100[14] 8
US Billboard Adult Contemporary[14] 17
US Billboard Pop Songs[14] 5

Selena version

File:Selena - Sukiyaki cover.jpg
Single by Selena
from the album Selena
Released September 14, 1989
Format CD, 7" single
Recorded 1988
Genre Latin
Length 3:01
Label EMI
Writer(s) Hachidai Nakamura
Producer(s) A.B. Quintanilla III
Selena singles chronology
"Contigo Quiero Estar"
Music sample

"Sukiyaki" (English: I Shall Walk Looking Up, Spanish: Caminaré Mirando Arriba), was a single released by Selena in 1990, which was released as the fourth single from the 1989 self-titled album Selena. The song received much airplay at the time of release. It was a Spanish-language version of the song, featuring the lyrics written by Janice Marie Johnson translated into Spanish.[citation needed]

It was released as a single in the United States and Japan. It was included in several of Selena's greatest hits packages before and after her death.[citation needed]

Other versions

In 1963, the British record label Pye Records released an instrumental cover version of the song by Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen. They were concerned that English-speaking audiences might find the original title too difficult to remember/pronounce, so they gave it the new title of "Sukiyaki". This title was retained when Capitol Records in the United States, and His Master's Voice (HMV) in the UK, released Kyu Sakamoto's original version a few months later. Sakamoto's follow-up to "Sukiyaki", "China Nights (Shina no Yoru)", charted in 1963 at number 58. That was the last song by an artist from Japan to reach the U.S. pop charts for 16 years, until the female duo Pink Lady had a top-40 hit in 1979 with its English-language song "Kiss in the Dark".[citation needed]

Several other artists have recorded cover versions of the song, while others have written and/or performed songs based on the melody:

  • In 1963, Brazilian vocal music Trio Esperança, then child singers, released a cover of the song in Portuguese, called "Olhando para o céu" ("Looking at the sky"), on their debut album "Nós somos sucesso" ("We are successful"). The lyrics in Portuguese were written by Romeo Nunes.
  • In 1963, the Dutch-based Indonesian duo Blue Diamonds recorded the first evident English-language rendering of "Ue O Muite Aruko", featuring lyrics written by Decca Records executive Martin Stellman of Belgium: in the Netherlands the Blue Diamonds' English-language version of "Sukiyaki" charted in tandem with the Kyu Sakomoto original and two versions of the Dutch rendering subtitled "In Yokohama" (see below) with a #13 peak. Blue Diamonds' English rendering of "Sukiyaki" was overlooked in release in both the UK and the US.
  • In 1963 a Dutch rendering subtitled "In Yokohama" was recorded by Wanda de Fretes the title was also used for an instrumental version by Tony Vos (nl). Charting in tandem with the Blue Diamonds English-language remake (see above) and the Kyu Sakomoto original version, these versions reached #13 in the Netherlands.
  • In 1963, Blue Diamonds (see above) reached #2 in Germany with a German-language cover of "Sukiyaki".
  • In 1963, The Ventures did a gentle instrumental cover of the song on its album release "Let's Go!"
  • In 1963, Canadian singers Claude Valade and Margot Lefebvre each recorded a French version, "Sous une pluie d'étoiles" ("Under a shower of stars").
  • In 1964 Lucille Starr introduced the English rendering of "Sukiyaki" by lyricist Buzz Cason on her album The French Song: this version would be a 1966 single release by Jewel Akens as "My First Lonely Night" (see below).
  • In 1965, the Hong Kong-based band The Fabulous Echoes (later known as Society of Seven) recorded the song.
  • In 1965, Czech singer Josef Zíma recorded Czech version of the song named "Bílá vrána" ("White crow")
  • In 1965, the Disneyland Boys Choir sang it on the album "It's a Small World: 18 Favorite Folk Songs", under the name "Sukiyaka".
  • In 1966, US soul singer Jewel Akens released the song as "My First Lonely Night" as part of his double A-side single "Mama, Take Your Daughter Back"/"My First Lonely Night" on ERA records. The track had debuted on Akens' 1964 album The Birds and the Bees with its earliest recording being by Lucille Starr in 1964 (see above). This is probably the nearest translation to the original; although not a literal translation, it tells a similar story of a lonely man walking through the night, after losing his love.
  • In 1967, the Ginny Tiu Revue recorded this on their self-titled first album.
  • In 1975, the Hawaii-based duet Cecilio & Kapono recorded a markedly different English-language version in their album Elua released on Columbia Records.
  • In 1981, Hong Kong singer Teresa Carpio covered this song in Cantonese.
  • In 1982, a Brazilian humour-punk group Joelho De Porco recorded a cover version for the double album Saqueando A Cidade.
  • In 1983, a collaborative album by Peter Metro & Captain Sinbad with Little John, called Sinbad & The Metric System included "Water Jelly" on the Taxi Riddim by Peter Metro. The melody was adapted to reggae and it featured new lyrics in Spanish and English.[15]
  • In 1983, Finnish singer Riki Sorsa recorded the song with original Japanese lyrics as "Sukiyaki (Ue O Muite Aruko)".
  • In 1989, Selena recorded a Latin-influenced cover.
  • In 1989, Hong Kong singer Anita Mui covered this song in Cantonese.
  • In 1993, rapper Snoop Dogg used the theme from the song for his song "Lodi Dodi" on the album Doggystyle.
  • In 1995, a reggae version by Sayoko both in English and Japanese featuring Beanie Man.
  • In 1995, Jackie and the Cedrics recorded a surf version, "Sukiyaki Stomp", as the B-side of "Scalpin' Party", with "Justine" as the third song on the 7" vinyl EP. They also performed the song as part of their live set, including when they appeared in NYC in 1999.
  • In 1996, Brazilian axé singer Daniela Mercury recorded "Sukiyaki" with its original Japanese-language lyrics. The song was released outside Brazil only, as an international bonus track on her 1996 studio album Feijão com Arroz.
  • In 1996, freestyle trio The Cover Girls recorded a version for their album Satisfy.
  • The Haitian band Boukman Eksperyans used the melody in the track "Sevelan/Sukiyaki" on their 1998 album Revolution.
  • In 1999, Utada Hikaru covered as live recorded from the album, First Love
  • In 2000, solo violinist Diana Yukawa recorded "Sukiyaki" on her best-selling debut album (known as Elegy in the UK and La Campanella in Japan). Yukawa also performed "Sukiyaki" various times on the mountainside where her father, Akihisa Yukawa, died in the Japan Airlines Flight 123 crash with Sakamoto.
  • In 2000, Big Daddy released a smooth retro version which appeared in their compilation album, The Best of Big Daddy (the song had originally appeared on the Japanese release of their 1991 album Cutting Their Own Groove).
  • In 2002, on her album "The Best of Trish 2", Trish Thuy Trang released her upbeat remixed version of the song with a combination of the original Japanese and English rendition lyrics. Some verses are sung in Japanese midway through while the majority are sung in English.
  • In the Philippines, Aiza Seguerra and Sir Johannes Mines covered the song in 2013 for the album Eastwood.
  • In 2008, interpreted by Hiromi Uehara and her group Sonic Bloom in the album Beyond Standard
  • In 2012, Sweet Sister Pain released a cover featuring Japanese lyrics on their album The Seven Seas of Blood and Honey.
  • In the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the Suntory beverage company released several versions of a television commercial featuring many famous Japanese singers and Tommy Lee Jones each doing part of the song, followed by the title caption "ue wo muite arukou," or, roughly, "let's walk with our heads up."[16]
  • In 2013, Missy Elliott protégée Sharaya J sampled a portion of the original tune, alongside A Taste of Honey's version, for her single "BANJI".[17]
  • In 2013, an Oxford duo SweetnSour Swing recorded and released a special single "Sukiyaki", dedicated to British jazz musician Kenny Ball.
  • In 2014, during his Japanese tour, Olly Murs performed the song in English named "Look at the Sky", featuring lyrics written by Yoko Ono.[18]
  • In 2005, 2012 and 2015 respectively, Japanese singer Kiyoshi Hikawa covered the song live in many concerts (the most recent was NHK Omoide no melody).

Parodies and alternate versions

  • A parody song, "Nyanyian Kode", by Indonesian comedy group Warkop, was featured in their 1980 film Pintar-pintar bodoh.[19]
  • Fingerstyle guitarist Pat Donohue put new lyrics to the melody for the radio program "A Prairie Home Companion"; his song, "Sushi-Yucki", is included on his 2003 album, Radio Blues.

References in other songs

  • Hip hop emcee Slick Rick (performing as MC Ricky D) sang a verse of the Taste of Honey version of the song as part of his and Doug E. Fresh's hit 1985 song "La Di Da Di";[20] he sang it from the perspective of a woman who was infatuated with Rick.
  • Hip hop duo Salt-n-Pepa sang a similar verse with the same melody on their 1985 debut single "The Show Stopper", which was a response to both "La Di Da Di" and the single to which it served as a B-side, The Show.[21]
  • Snoop Dogg included the verse in his 1993 cover of "La Di Da Di," retitled "Lodi Dodi."
  • Slick Rick also sang the verse in a guest appearance on Will Smith's 1999 song "So Fresh."
  • Possibly in homage to Slick Rick, the verse has been included, in whole or in parts, on other hip hop and R&B songs, including Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's "Bless da 40 Oz.", Raphael Saadiq's 1995 hit "Ask of You", and Mary J. Blige's 1997 song "Everything."

Soundtrack appearances

  • The song was prominently featured in the Studio Ghibli film From Up on Poppy Hill.
  • In the 12th episode of the anime Hyouka, the song was sung by the A cappella club during their school's Cultural Festival.
  • The song is heard in a sushi bar during the title character's first date in the 1999 film Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.[22]
  • The song was featured in a 2000 episode of Malcolm in the Middle, "Stock Car Races."
  • The song is played during a party scene in the 2000 film Charlie's Angels, directed by McG.
  • The song appears in the television series Mad Men in the second-season episode "Flight 1." Although the episode is set in March 1962, before the song's official release in the United States, it is heard in a scene set in a Japanese restaurant.
  • Wii Music included the song in the handbell harmony section and it can also be unlocked for jam sessions.[23]
  • The song appears on the soundtrack to the 2013 film The Double, directed by Richard Ayoade.
  • An instrumental version of the song is played during a baton twirling scene in the 2014 movie Tamako Love Story, a spinoff of the anime series Tamako Market.
  • The song appears on the soundtrack of the 2014 film Inherent Vice, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
  • The song appears twice in the 2008 documentary film Japan: A Story of Love and Hate, directed by Sean McAllister .
  • The song appears in episode 2 of The Man in the High Castle, in a world where the American west coast is occupied by Imperial Japan.



On March 16, 1999, Japan Post issued a stamp that commemorated the song.[25] The stamp is listed in the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue as Japan number 2666 with a face value of 50 yen.


  2. 坂本九さん 〜心のふるさと・笠間〜. Kasama Tourist Association (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2006-07-10. Retrieved 2008-02-20. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Translation)
  3. 【85年8月12日】日航ジャンボ機墜落事故…坂本九さん死去 (in Japanese). Sports Nippon. Retrieved 2009-12-27. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  4. Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 509.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–2001. Record Research. p. 213.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Kyu Sakamoto". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 5 October 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 笹本恒子 「恒子の昭和: 日本初の女性報道写真家が撮影した人と出来事」 ISBN 4096820660
  8. Fred Bronson (2003). "Sukiyaki". The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits. Billboard Books. ISBN 0-8230-7677-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Billboard Hot 100 - June 20, 1981". 2011-11-19. Retrieved 2011-11-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 566.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Billboard. Vol. 107 no. 3. 21 January 1995. p. 86. Missing or empty |title= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. " – 4 P.M. – Sukiyaki". ARIA Top 50 Singles.
  13. " – 4 P.M. – Sukiyaki". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 2010-12-21.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Billboard: Page for "Sukiyaki" by 4 P.M. For Positive Music
  16. "『上を向いて歩こう』、『見上げてごらん夜の星を』篇の公開は終了しました。 サントリーチャンネル サントリーCM・動画ポータルサイト". Retrieved 2011-11-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Sharaya J's Banji sample of A Taste of Honey's Sukiyaki". WhoSampled. Retrieved April 6, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "UKポップスター <オリー・マーズ>とオノ・ヨーコが新たな命を吹き込んだ、「上を向いて歩こう」の新しいスタンダード、「Look At The Sky(ルック・アット・ザ・スカイ)」が世界初披露!". Sony Music Japan. Retrieved June 20, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Video on YouTube
  20. Jun 15, 1963: Kyu Sakamoto tops the charts with "Sukiyaki",
  21. Salt-n-pepa - Hot, Cool & Vicious review, Agnes Torres, The Orlando Sentinel, January 31, 1988
  23. Wii Music’s Licensed Songs, Jean Snow, Wired GameLife, October 16, 2008
  25. "わたしの愛唱歌シリーズ第9集郵便切手". Japan Post. 1999-03-16. Retrieved 2008-06-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Preceded by
"It's My Party" by Lesley Gore
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
(Kyu Sakamoto version)

June 15, 1963 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Easier Said Than Done" by The Essex
Preceded by
"I Love Because" by Al Martino
Billboard Middle-Road number-one single
(Kyu Sakamoto version)

June 8, 1963 (5 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport" by Rolf Harris
Preceded by
"Being with You" by Smokey Robinson
Billboard Hot Soul Singles number-one single
(A Taste of Honey version)

May 9, 1981
Succeeded by
"A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)" by Ray Parker, Jr. & Raydio
Preceded by
"9 to 5" by Sheena Easton
Billboard Adult Contemporary number-one single
(A Taste of Honey version)

May 16, 1981 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"How 'Bout Us" by Champaign