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That Was A Hit?!?: Extra Helpings Of 'Sukiyaki'

Arbitrarily named for a Japanese hot pot dish, this melancholy ballad went to No. 1 in 1963

Monday, June 10, 2013

Brooklyn-based writer Paul Ford returns to our studio with the story of Kyu Sakamoto's “Sukiyaki,” in a new installment of our series about improbable chart success.

The story begins with "Ue o Muite Arukō," a Japanese pop song recorded by Sakamoto in 1961. When it was released in the U.S. two years later, the song was renamed "Sukiyaki," even though its lyrics have nothing to do with the hot pot dish. It became the only Japanese-language song to hit No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100.



But that was just the start of Sukiyaki's catchy reign. "This thing got into the culture and held on," Ford says. "If you start googling 'Sukiyaki' and doing some research, there's no end in sight. There are dozens of covers on Spotify."

 Best-known cover: Taste of Honey's ultra-smooth, English-language version, which went to No. 3 on the Hot 100 in 1981.



Best-known shout-out: Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh's "La Di Da Di."



Creepiest reference: In a scene from the second season of Mad Men, "Sukiyaki" plays in a restaurant as Don Draper reflects silently on the death of a character's father in a plane crash. Kyu Sakamoto, the pop star who recorded the original version in 1961, died in the crash of Japan Airlines 123 on Aug. 12, 1985.




Paul Ford

Comments [3]

phdesmond from cambridge, mass.

additional info from wikipedia:

"Sakamoto's follow-up to "Sukiyaki", "China Nights (Shina no Yoru)", charted in 1963 at number 58."

other versions are easy to find:

a movie from 1940; apparently the song was popular with japanese soldiers serving in china:

this one has a transliteration into the roman alphabet of the japanese lyrics, as well as, it seems, the japanese original (i don't speak or read japanese):

a possible translation of uncertain authenticity:

so, apparently, sakamoto's second hit was a 1940 song popular with japanese soldiers serving in china.

Jun. 15 2013 06:26 PM
최형윤 from the Occident

Speaking as an Asian American, I find nothing racist about the Taste of Honey video (though the bits with the fan were a bit much). "Cultural appropriation," I guess one might call it, isn't always negative. Arguably the setup is a *tribute* to the beautifu aspects of Japanese culture. It's not like they went full-geisha with facepaint and simpering submissive gesturing. If anything, the Mad Man clip had more disturbing undertones to me, saved only by the fact that the waitress didn't have an accent.

Jun. 12 2013 12:41 PM
Gio San

The segment fails to take into account the all-round musical excellence of the original release, it's not just a good song; Kyu Sakamoto was a very fine singer, supported with a good arrangement, top notch studio band, etc.

Whereas the hip-hop version was clearly a parody of the cloying awfulness of the Taste of Honey cover, the Brazilian cover is an earnest tribute to the original.

Jun. 10 2013 09:07 PM

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