Sukiyaki (song)

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"Ue o Muite Arukō"
Single by Kyu Sakamoto
from the album Sukiyaki and Other Japanese Hits (US)
English title"Sukiyaki"
B-side"Anoko no Namae wa Nanten kana"
Released1961 (Japan)
1963 (US, UK)
Format7" vinyl
GenrePop, kayōkyoku, Japanese pop
LabelToshiba-EMI (Japan)
Capitol/EMI Records (US and Canada)
HMV/EMI Records (UK)
Composer(s)Hachidai Nakamura
Lyricist(s)Rokusuke Ei
Kyu Sakamoto singles chronology
"Kyū-chan Ondo (Sore ga Ukiyo to Iu Mono sa)"
"Ue o Muite Arukō"
"Model Girl"
Audio sample
"Kyu Sakamoto – Sukiyaki"

"Ue o Muite Arukō" (上を向いて歩こう, "I Look Up As I Walk", alternatively titled "Sukiyaki") is a song by Japanese crooner Kyu Sakamoto, first released in Japan in 1961. The song topped the charts in several countries, including on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963. The song has grown to become one of the world's best-selling singles of all time, having sold over 13 million copies worldwide.


"Ue o Muite Arukō" was written by lyricist Rokusuke Ei and composer Hachidai Nakamura. Ei wrote the lyrics while walking home from a Japanese student demonstration protesting against a continued US Army presence, expressing his frustration at the failed efforts.[1][2]

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.[3] 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.

English title[edit]

In Anglophone countries, the song is best known under the alternative title "Sukiyaki". Sukiyaki refers to a Japanese hot-pot dish with cooked beef, 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 columnist noted that the re-titling was like issuing "Moon River" in Japan under the title "Beef Stew".[4]

Well-known English-language cover versions with altogether different lyrics often go by the alternative name or something completely different, including "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.

Commercial performance[edit]

In Japan, "Ue o Muite Arukō" topped the Popular Music Selling Record chart in the Japanese magazine Music Life [jp] for three months, and was ranked as the number one song of 1961 in Japan.

In the United States, "Sukiyaki" reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the United States in 1963, one of the few non-Indo-European language songs to have done so. The song also peaked at number eighteen on the Billboard R&B chart,[5] and spent five weeks at number one on the Middle of the Road charts.[6]

Internationally, the song is one of the best-selling singles of all time, having sold over 13 million copies worldwide.[7][8]


Chart (1961–63) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[9] 1
Canada (RPM) 1
Germany (Official German Charts)[10] 2
Japan (Music Life)[11] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[12] 1
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[13] 6
US Billboard Hot 100[14] 1
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[15] 1


An instrumental version of the song was played by NASA over the radio for the Gemini VII astronauts as mood music, thereby becoming one of the first pieces of music sent to humans in space.[16]

On March 16, 1999, Japan Post issued a stamp that commemorated the song.[17] The stamp is listed in the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue as Japan number 2666 with a face value of 50 yen.

Covers and variations (as "Sukiyaki")[edit]

A Taste of Honey version[edit]

Single by A Taste of Honey
from the album Twice As Sweet
B-side"Don't You Lead Me On"
ReleasedMarch 1981
LabelCapitol B-4953
Songwriter(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.[18] It also went to number one on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart and Soul chart.[19]

While driving around Los Angeles, Janice-Marie Johnson of A Taste of Honey had heard Linda Ronstadt's hit remake of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' "Ooo Baby Baby" play on the car radio with Johnson concluding that A Taste of Honey should remake a classic hit.[20] 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] This version used a koto played by Hazel Payne.[21]

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] It is the group's single of greatest U.S. chart longevity at 24 weeks, surpassing their earlier hit, "Boogie Oogie Oogie" by one week.

Chart performance[edit]

4 P.M. version[edit]

Single by 4 P.M.
from the album Now's the Time
ReleasedSeptember 6, 1994
FormatCD and cassette single
LabelLondon Records (UK)
Songwriter(s)Hachidai Nakamura
Janice Marie Johnson (English lyrics)
4 P.M. singles chronology
"Lay Down Your Love"

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]


Weekly charts
Chart (1994–1995) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[32] 3
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[33] 5
US Billboard Hot 100[34] 8
US Billboard Adult Contemporary[34] 17
US Billboard Top 40 Mainstream[34] 5
Year-end charts
Chart (1995) Position
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[35] 55
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[36] 43

G.H. Hat versions[edit]

Sukiyaki GHHat.jpg
Single by G.H. Hat
from the album Sukiyaki Versions
ReleasedApril 13, 2018
LabelViscount Music
Songwriter(s)Hachidai Nakamura
Janice Marie Johnson (English lyrics)
Audio sample
"Sukiyaki feat. Eriko Tamura"

G.H. Hat released 4 original versions of Sukiyaki and 8 remixed versions of these original tracks in April and July 2018, including remixes by Ralphi Rosario and Dinaire+Bissen. All versions are in the Dance Genre and charted on Billboard's Dance Club Songs Top 50 for 10 weeks with a peak position of #19.[37] The April versions featured US Singer Alina Renae and used the English Language lyrics written by Janice Marie Johnson. The July versions featured Japanese Super Star Eriko Tamura and used the original Japanese lyrics.


Chart (2018) Peak
US Billboard Dance Club Songs Top 50[37][38] 19

Selena version[edit]

Selena - Sukiyaki cover.jpg
Single by Selena
from the album Selena
ReleasedSeptember 13, 1989
FormatCD, 7" single
Songwriter(s)Hachidai Nakamura
Producer(s)A.B. Quintanilla III
Selena singles chronology
"Contigo Quiero Estar"
Audio 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[edit]

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:

  • Koko Montana, a famous Peruvian singer from the sixties, recorded the song in Spanish and sang one verse in Japanese.
  • 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, the Danish artist, Otto Brandenburg recorded both a Danish and Swedish version, of Sukiyaki.
  • 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, Johnny and his Cellar Rockers, the first band of the Dutch guitar-player Jan Akkerman covered the song. 1
  • 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")[39]
  • 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 1967, Johan Dalgas Frisch recorded this to a background of Brazilian songbirds on his album "Symphony of the Birds".
  • In 1975, the Hawaii-based duet Cecilio & Kapono recorded a markedly different English-language version in their album Elua released on Columbia Records.[citation needed] and in 1992 on their self-produced album "Summer Lust". [40]
  • 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.[41]
  • In 1983, Finnish singer Riki Sorsa recorded the song with original Japanese lyrics as "Sukiyaki (Ue O Muite Aruko)".
  • In 1986, Norwegian singer Sissel Kyrkjebø recorded the song with Norwegian lyrics.
  • 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 Beenie 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 2003, Spanish vocal grupo Charm released a double languaje version in their debut album, Konnichiwa (sung in Spanish on CD-1 and in Japanese on CD-2).
  • In the Philippines, Tirso Cruz III was covered his own version from the movie of "Winter Holiday" (1972). Filmed during the 1972 Winter Olympics in Japan. In the late 2000s, Aiza Seguerra was covered this song and later 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 the wake of the March 11, 2011 Tōhoku 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".[42]
  • In 2010, Sweet Sister Pain released a cover featuring Japanese lyrics on their album The Seven Seas of Blood and Honey.
  • In 2011, Seiko Matsuda performed it with her daughter Sayaka Kanda as part of the 62nd NHK Kohaku Uta Gassen. It was the first time the pair sang together.
  • 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".[43]
  • 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.[44]
  • In 2005, 2012 and 2015, Japanese singer Kiyoshi Hikawa covered the song live in many concerts (the most recent was NHK Omoide no melody).

Soundtrack appearances[edit]

  • The song is featured in both the TV show M*A*S*H and its movie version, even though the movie and series are set almost a decade before the song was released.
  • A parody of this song, titled "Nyanyian Kode" (Code Song), appeared in the 1980 movie Pintar-Pintar Bodoh, starring the Indonesian comedy group Warkop Prambors.[45]
  • The song is heard in a sushi bar during the title character's first date in the 1999 film Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.[46]
  • 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.
  • Wii Music included the song in the handbell harmony section and it can also be unlocked for jam sessions.[47]
  • The song appears twice in the 2008 documentary film Japan: A Story of Love and Hate, directed by Sean McAllister .
  • 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.
  • The song was prominently featured in the Studio Ghibli film From Up on Poppy Hill (2011).
  • 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 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 in episode 2 of The Man in the High Castle (2015–) in a world where the American west coast is occupied by Imperial Japan.[48]


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External links[edit]