First recorded (as “Ue no Muite Arukou”) by Kyu Sakamoto (JPN #1 1961 |US #1/R&B #18 May 1963 |UK #6 Jun 1963).
Also recorded by Clyde Beavers (1963), The Fabulous Echoes (1965), Jewel Akens (as “My First Lonely Night”) (1966), Selena (1990).
Other hit versions by Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen (UK #10 Jan 1963), A Taste of Honey (US #3/R&B #1 1981), 4 P.M. (US #8/R&B #75/UK #152 1994).
From the wiki: “‘Ue o Muite Arukō’, ‘I Look Up As I Walk’) is a Japanese-language song first recorded in 1963 by Japanese crooner Kyu Sakamoto, and composed by Hachidai Nakamura (music) and Rokusuke Ei (lyrics). Ei wrote the lyrics while returning home from a protest against the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, feeling dejected about the failure of the protest movement. But, Ei purposely rendered the lyrical content generic so that the lines might refer to any lost love. In Anglophone countries ‘Ue o Muite Arukō’ is best known under the alternative title ‘Sukiyaki’ (a term with no relevance to the song’s lyrics). The English-language title – for a Japanese hot pot dish – actually has nothing to do with the lyrics or the meaning of the song. A Newsweek magazine columnist noted that the re-titling was like issuing ‘Moon River’ in Japan under the title ‘Beef Stew’.
“Sometime in 1962, a British music executive named Louis Benjamin heard the song when he was traveling in Japan. Benjamine had his group. Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen, record an instrumental version that made it to #10 on the UK charts. The song made it to America when a disk jockey in Washington State heard the British version, and began spinning the original by Sakamoto. He used the title ‘Sukiyaki’, which was much more palatable – and understood – to Americans than was ‘Ue O Muite Aruko’, and requests started pouring in for the song. Capitol Records obtained the American rights to the song and released it Stateside.
From Songfacts.com: “So how did this American disc jockey get a copy of the original song? Marsha Cunningham gave us the answer. She explained to us: ‘In 1961-2 I was a high school student at The American School In Japan, living in Zushi, Japan. My dad was a pilot for Japan Air Lines. While enjoying a Japanese movie starring Kyu Sakamoto, I heard the most unbelievably beautiful song. I purchased the record at a local shop and brought it back to the States the next year when I attended a girl’s boarding school in Sierra Madre, CA. I played it in the dormitory frequently; everyone liked it. One girl took my record home with her on the weekend so her dad could play it on his radio station, and the rest is history!’
“In 1963, Country singer Clyde Beavers arranged to have an official of the Japanese embassy (J.S. Shima) in Washington, D.C. translate the lyrics into English. Although Beavers’ ‘Sukiyaki’ did not chart, his recording is the only one released in the US that reflects the original lyrical intent of the song. In 1965, Hawaiian-based band The Fabulous Echoes had a hit in Hong Kong with their Japanese version of the song. Jewel Akens (‘The Bird and the Bees’) recorded an English-language version in 1965 titled ‘My First Lonely Night’.
“In 1979, while driving around Los Angeles, Janice Marie Johnson of A Taste of Honey heard Linda Ronstadt’s hit remake of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ ‘Ooo Baby Baby’ play on the car radio and decided that A Taste of Honey should also remake a classic hit. 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.’ 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.
“The original Kyu Sakamoto recording also went to #18 on the R&B chart. The recording was originally released in Japan by Toshiba in 1961, and topped the Popular Music Selling Record chart in the Japanese magazine Music Life for three months, becoming ranked as the #1 song of 1961 in Japan. It went on to become one of the best-selling singles of all time, having sold over 13 million copies worldwide.”
Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen, “Sukiyaki” (1963):
Clyde Beavers, “Sukiyaki” English-translation of Japanese lyrics (1963):
The Fabulous Echoes, “Ue no Muite Arukou” (1965):
Jewel Akens, “My First Lonely Night” (1965):
A Taste of Honey, “Sukiyaki” (1981):
Selena, “Sukiyaki” (1990):
4 P.M., “Sukiyaki” live TV performance Club CHR – Yokohama TV (1994):