Sukiyaki (song)

"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 grew to become one of the world's best-selling singles of all time, selling over 13 million copies worldwide.

"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
Producer(s)Kōji Kusano
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"
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"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 military presence in the country, 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

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

In Japan, "Ue o Muite Arukō" topped the Popular Music Selling Record chart in the Japanese magazine Music Life 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-English songs to have done so, and the only one in a non-European language. 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]

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".

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")

A Taste of Honey version

Single by A Taste of Honey
from the album Twice As Sweet
B-side"Don't You Lead Me On"
ReleasedMarch 1981
LabelCapitol/EMI B-4953
Songwriter(s)Hachidai Nakamura
Janice-Marie Johnson (English lyrics)(uncredited)
Producer(s)George Duke
A Taste of Honey singles chronology
"Rescue Me"
"I'll Try Something New"


A Taste of Honey vocalist Janice-Marie Johnson would recall how at age 9 she'd heard Kyu Sakamoto's "Sukiyaki" on the radio in the summer of 1963 and said: "Mom! Buy me this record!", as despite not understanding the lyrics she was deeply moved by the song. Constantly playing the single, Johnson phonetically learned its lyrics and taught them to her sister, with the pair participating in neighborhood talent shows singing "Sukiyaki" while performing their approximation of an Oriental dance number.[18] Years later, after A Taste of Honey had scored their 1978 #1 hit "Boogie Oogie Oogie, Johnson had heard the Linda Ronstadt hit remake of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' "Ooo Baby Baby" on her car radio causing Johnson to realize that remaking a 1960s hit could be a good career move for A Taste of Honey, with Johnson's obvious choice for the remake being her beloved "Sukiyaki". [19][20] Johnson contacted the song's Japanese lyricist Rokusuke Ei who provided her with a literal translation of what he'd written:[21] as this translation did not yield complete sentences in English, Johnson endeavored to write a new set of lyrics she felt would capture the spirit of the song.[19] To Johnson, it seemed the song's original lyrics had 3 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: Janice-Marie Johnson decided; "me being the hopeless romantic that I am, I decided to write about a love gone bad."[22]

When Cecil Hale, vice-president of Capitol Records, heard Johnson sing the lyrics she'd written for "Sukiyaki" in the slow balladic style she envisioned for the track (Janice-Marie Johnson quote:)" He said, 'absolutely not! Black people don't want to hear Japanese music.' I was stunned [having been] so sure he would like it. I looked at him and I said 'Last time I looked in a mirror I was black and I want to hear it.'"[23] Producer George Duke, who was assigned to produce the upcoming A Taste of Honey album Twice As Sweet shared Hale's lack of enthusiasm, Duke recalled: "'Man, what am I going to do with "Sukiyaki"?' I thought [Johnson] was crazy, but I said 'If that's what she wants to do, I'll do it.'"[24] Johnson would recall Duke, "thought we could do a kind of uptempo version [but] I [saw] it as a love ballad, which is how it was done. [Duke] did a fantastic arrangement."[23]Duke replied, "we did the song and had Clare Fischer do the string arrangement and brought June [Karumoto] in to give it a Japanese flavor" - Karumoto being a koto player whom Duke knew from the jazz band Hiroshima - "We added an R&B section, and that was it. It was a simple tune I never thought would become a hit. To this day, I can't believe it was as big a record as it was."[24]

Cecil Hale remained resistant to the track: as late as the master for Twice As Sweet being placed on the disc cutter "Sukiyaki" was omitted, the track only being added to Twice As Sweet before the album's August 1980 release after some eleventh hour negotiations between Johnson and Capitol Records, most essentially that Johnson be disallowed credit or royalties for her new lyrics (Capitol Records held the copyright of the Kyu Sakamoto original).[18][21] After the album's uptempo advance single "Rescue Me" fell short of the R&B chart Top Ten and failed to cross over to the Billboard Hot 100,[25] Johnson urged for "Sukiyaki" to be the next single[24][19] only for Capitol to issue another uptempo track: "I'm Talkin’ ’Bout You," which would stall at #64 R&B.[25] Capitol did finally afford single release to "Sukiyaki" in January 1981, the track being both serviced to radio and shipped to retail the first week of the year and being re-serviced to radio 2 weeks later in a promotional package that included a folding fan: in February 1981 - as "Sukiyaki" moved up the R&B chart Top 40 and began to "bubble under" the Hot 100 - Capitol reinforced the single's radio profile by sending out 6000 custom-cut fan-shaped promo copies of "Sukiyaki" to Pop- and R&B-oriented radio stations.[26] The "Sukiyaki" single was packaged in a picture sleeve showing Johnson and her A Taste of Honey partner, Hazel Payne, wearing kimono, and the duo were similarly dressed in their television performances to promote the single. These performances featured a traditional Japanese fan dance by Johnson, while Payne (who was not featured on the recording of "Sukiyaki") played (or in mimed performances appearing to play) June Karumoto's koto part.[27] A #1 hit on both the R&B and A/C chart, "Sukiyaki" crossed over to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1981.[28][29]

Chart performance

4 P.M. version

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 - uncredited)
4 P.M. singles chronology
"Lay Down Your Love"

4 P.M.'s 1994 a cappella version of "Sukiyaki" reached number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. The group remade the song - utilizing the English-language lyrics of the A Taste of Honey version - at the suggestion of Next Plateau Records president Eddie O'Loughlin.[40] The 4 P.M. version was a chart success in Australia, reaching number 3, and in New Zealand, reaching number 5.


Weekly charts
Chart (1994–1995) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[41] 3
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[42] 5
US Billboard Hot 100[43] 8
US Billboard Adult Contemporary[43] 17
US Billboard Top 40 Mainstream[43] 5
Year-end charts
Chart (1995) Position
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[44] 55
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[45] 43

G. H. Hat versions

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"
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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.[46] 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[46][47] 19

Selena version

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" (1989)
  • file
  • help

"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.

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.

Other versions

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.

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 August, 1963, US Country singer Clyde Beavers reached #21 on Billboard's Country charts with the most literal translation of the song (subtitled "I Look Up When I Walk).[48][49]
  • 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")[50]
  • 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. and in 1992 on their self-produced album "Summer Lust".
  • 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.
  • In 1983, Finnish singer Riki Sorsa recorded the song with original Japanese lyrics as "Sukiyaki (Ue O Muite Aruko)".
  • In 1985, Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick used an interpolation of the song’s first verse in their song “La-Di-Da-Di.”
  • In 1986, Norwegian singer Sissel Kyrkjebø recorded the song with Norwegian lyrics.
  • In 1989, Hong Kong singer Anita Mui covered this song in Cantonese.
  • In 1993, Japanese group Asia released several different versions as singles.
  • In 1993, rapper Snoop Dogg used the first verse from the song on his song "Lodi Dodi" (itself a cover of the Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick song mentioned earler) 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, Latin freestyle trio the Cover Girls recorded a version that appeared on its album Satisfy.
  • The Haitian band Boukman Eksperyans used the melody in the track "Sevelan/Sukiyaki" on its 1998 album Revolution.
  • In 1999, Utada Hikaru covered as live recorded from the album First Love
  • In 1999, composer Nobuo Uematsu used the melody in the song "Fisherman's Horizon," written for Final Fantasy VIII.
  • 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 that appeared on its 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 language 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 2010, Sweet Sister Pain released a cover featuring Japanese lyrics on their album The Seven Seas of Blood and Honey.
  • In the wake of the March 11, 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the Suntory beverage company released several versions of a television commercial with this song, as well as "Miagete goran yoru no hoshi o", featuring many famous Japanese actors and singers, and including also actor 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".[51][52]
  • 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".[53]
  • 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.[54]
  • In 2005, 2012 and 2015, Japanese singer Kiyoshi Hikawa covered the song live in many concerts (the most recent was NHK Omoide no melody).
  • In 2019, the track "Freak" from Swedish DJ Avicii's posthumous album Tim used the Sukiyaki melody.[55]
  • Pat Donohue wrote a parody version, about his encounter with "icky, yucky sushi," which has been covered by other artists, including English fingerstyle guitarist Richard Smith (who has been known to add a verse comparing sushi with lutefisk).

Soundtrack appearances

  • 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.[56]
  • The song is heard in a sushi bar during the title character's first date in the 1999 film Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.[57]
  • 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.[58]
  • 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.[59]


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