Sushi anyone? – ’60’s style

Perhaps the oddest song to rule the U.S. Music charts in the 1960’s was the one and only full on Japanese recording called “Sukiyaki” ( yes, like the food ) by Kyu (as in cue) Sakamoto The record burst onto the U.S. Charts the first week of June in 1963, went straight to number one and held the position for 3 weeks! We received little to no information from our local D.J. or fan mags about this odd recording that sounded like “our parents music” by an unknown vocalist, Kyu Sakamoto, whose name we couldn’t pronounce. The songs original title was, “Ue o Miute Aroku” which loosely translates to “I look up when I walk, so my tears won’t fall”…..Yeah, “Sukiyaki” is basically a “Love gone wrong song” But the U.S. Record label changed the title to “Sukiyaki.” A word that never appears in the song, and has nothing to do with the lyric, the label picked it because they thought it was the only Japanese word Americans may recognize and repeat!

Kyu, meanwhile was a handsome talented singer/actor/ musician showing up on “Bandstand” Ed Sullivan etc. and somehow breaking through and appealing to America’s youth! Made even more difficult by the fact that in 1963 many of our parents were still holding a huge racist grudge against the Japanese from Pearl Harbor and World War II. “Sukiyaki continued on to become a number one record around the world with sales in excess of 13 million singles.

Our fondest memory of this record was singing along with it and mispronouncing the Japanese lyrics struggling to translate and make sense of it…….”Oh how are you ooo ooo ooh, give me a call al al all” something like that! Admit it, you did the same, dintja?

OK. Lotus Blossom it’s time to sing along with Kyu…


  1. Hey Jim,
    Great to have you weigh in….It’s quite a great image thinking about “Little Jimmy Gorman” bopping along the highway singing along with Kyu and Wayne!….Wow, a summer road trip AND a crash course in Japanese and German….
    Don’t know about you but, by the end of the summer of ’63, I thought I was damn near bi lingual
    Aufedersein ?

  2. I remember that summer my family took a road trip from Southern California to Buffalo New York. We would pass from one radio station to the next, and they would either be playing Sukiyaki or Danke Schön by Wayne Newton. By the end of that trip, coming and going, I’ll bet I heard those two songs a hundred times!

  3. I always sang it in Japanese and never knew there was an English translation. LOL !!! NOT !! I didn’t know that it was a Japanese singer who sang and wrote this really good song. Good to know Mr. Shoe. Groovy man.

    • Hey Rick…..funny stuff! But seriously, are you saying you didn’t know “Sukiyaki was performed by a Japanese artist?
      O.K………Here’s the truth, It was Ricky Nelson just messin’ around
      You read it here at SMS!

      • I just never paid attention to the words and just really liked the song. But I do remember someone else singing it in English and sounded a lot like him. Do you know of anyone who did sing it in English ?? Or maybe a few that did later on??

        • Well Mr. Is….Here’s the drill on “Sukiyaki” In 1963 Kyu had the only record of that song. However, it was covered in 1981 by the girl duet “Taste of Honey” and got substantial air play, but that’s not what you’re remembering…..We believe, and we’re very impressed you actually know that the “other” record you recall was a recording by Jewel Akens ( remember “The Bitds and the Bees”?) In 1966, Akens re-wrote the lyrics to Sukiyaki and changed the title to “My First Lonely Night” he released it and received very little air play…..but apparently YOU HEARD IT!
          Thank you Mr. Ricky…Let’s listen to Jewels version…

          Hey Mr. Is, is this the record you remember?

          • No it is not the record I heard. I remember the singer had a higher pitch. Maybe now all of this comes back to me. I was high as a kite when I heard this song and I think that the Japanese words just blended into each other and I thought that it was Engilsh , blah , blah , blah ! Groovy man and out of sight ! The IS is out LOL !!!

  4. Wow, I, without ever knowing what words were being sung, loved listening to it. Great to now know what the words were. What ever happened to him after that hit?

    • Hey Jules…Great question!
      With the massive success of “Sukiyaki, Kyu embarked on a world tour in the fall of 1963. The tour went everywhere and ran through the end of 1964….Kyu tried to follow up on his huge hit with another song called “China Nights”, a hit in Japan, but barely saw the light of day in the U.S. Or anywhere else! “Sukiyaki” was magic and would never be repeated. However, Kyu worked constantly in his native Japan, making records starring in local movie and T.V. Productions, as well as clubs and concerts!
      Kyu’s career and life came to a tragic end in August of 1985. Kyu was one of the 520 unfortunate crew and passengers on board what aviation experts call the single worst airline disaster in history. Japan Air flight 123 on route from Tokyo to Osaka suffered an explosive decompression 12 minutes after takeoff and slammed into the Rocky hill sides surrounding Tokyo killing the 15 crew members and 505 passengers…
      A tragic and premature end to a life devoted to Music ,Family and Generosity

  5. I DID do the same! Never knew the words, as a 10 year old kid, back on Old Cape Cod, in the summer of ’63, however, it didn’t matter much. Such a GREAT little tune. A HAPPY sound (the way he whistles during the break is pure joy). I have such fond memories of this song, while playing pinball (five cents a game!) at The Barn of Fun…there was a really COOL jukebox there, too. Funny, when I hear this song I almost always think of “Surfer Joe” and the flip side “Wipe Out” by The Surfaris, which seemed to be playing constantly. Yeah, sweet memories of days gone by. Thanks, Rick.

    • Hey Jimmy…You paint a great picture, and you underscore two key elements that we often talk about here on SMS…..How music unites us and allows us to share a common experience ( in this case attempting to sing in Japanese) even though we are in different places in time! And secondly, the insane diversity of music available to us in the 1960’s…. “Wipe Out”! “Surfer Joe”! AND “Sukiyaki”! All on the same radio station, AT THE SAME TIME!……Not to mention “The cool Jukebox” at The Barn Of Fun”
      And, to add to the diverse craziness, another reader Jim Gorman pointed out that Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schon” was also a hit that summer!……A hit record in German and one in Japanese, less than 20 years after W W II…
      Thanx Jimmy, always appreciate your vivid input!…

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