Return To 60’s Main Menu Recording Artists Of The 60s 




(Hachidai Nakamura, Rokusuke Ei)

Capitol 4945

No. 1    June 15, 1963




The crash of a Japan Airlines 747 near Tokyo on August 12, 1985 claimed 520 lives, including that of Kyu

Sakamoto.   Kyu was one of only three Japanese artists (the other two are PINK LADY and the Yellow

Magic Orchestra) to ever chart on Billboard’s Hot 100.   “Sukiyaki” was the only record of the bunch to

the bunch to reach number one, and the only Hot 100 hit sung entirely in Japanese.


“Sukiyaki” was a tear-jerker that had absolutely nothing to do with the Japanese taste treat.    No, this

was a tale of misery and desolation, as the translated lyrics indicate:  “Sadness hides in the shadow of the

stars/Sadness lurks in the shadow of the moon/I look up when I walk so the tears won’t fall … “


Kyu was born in 1941 in the industrial city of Kawasaki, the ninth child of a Tokyo restaurateur.   In his

teen years, he sang in jazz clubs, and was discovered by Toshiba Records in 1959 while fronting a group

called the Paradise Kings.    Kyu scored 15 homeland hits, made appearances in 10 movies, and was a

regular on several radio and TV programs–all before recording “Sukiyaki” and the follow-up, “China

Nights (Shina No Yori)” (#58, 1963).


Sakamoto’s top 40 moment was largely due to Louis Benjamin, then the head of England’s Pye Records.

While visiting Japan on business, Benjamin heard Kyu’s ode and brought it home for his new artist,

jazzman KENNY BALL, to record.    The lyrics were dumped.    Figuring that no one in the world would

touch a tune with a title like “Ue O Muite Aruko” (“I Look Up When I Walk”), Benjamin decided to name

the record after one of his favorite culinary delights.    Ball’s version eventually made the British top 10.

Meanwhile, in the States, Richard Osborne, a DJ at KORD in Pasco, Washington, started playing and

replaying Kyu’s original rendition.    The response was better than favorable, and the rest is–they say; until



Before the sun set on Sakamoto’s stateside success, his first and last LP–Sukiyaki and Other Japanese

Hits,   1963–was packaged and pushed.   Although satiation would set in all too soon, record-buyers

snapped it up.