Kyu Sakamoto holds the record for the first number one pop record performed entirely in Japanese, 1963's "Sukiyaki." Though that's a sweet distinction to have, the translated lyrics to the million-selling song are anything but: "Sadness hides in the shadows of the stars/I look up when I walk so the tears wont fall...."
Kyu Sakamoto (pronounced "cue") was born in 1941 in Kawasaki, Japan, the son of a restaurateur. He began singing in jazz clubs as a teenager, before being signed to Toshiba Records in 1959. He had several Japanese pop hits and appeared in movies and on TV and radio programs. On a business trip to Japan, Louis Benjamin, president of U.K. label Pye Records, Ltd, heard Sakamoto's "Ue O Muite Aruko" (I Look up When I Walk). Renaming it after his favorite Japanese cuisine, sukiyaki, Benjamin had a Pye jazz artist record the tune, a Top Ten U.K. hit. Sakamoto's original version began getting airplay on DJ Richard Osborne's show on Pasco, WA, radio station KORD, which due to listener demand put the song in heavy rotation. Capitol Records bought the U.S. distribution rights for the record. Sakamoto's "Sukiyaki" went gold and charted on three of Billboard's charts: number one Pop for three weeks, number 18 R&B, and number one adult contemporary during the summer of 1963. On the flip side was "Anoko No Namaewa Nantenkana." The follow-up single, "China Nights" b/w "Benkyo No Cha Cha Cha" peaked at number 58 pop in late summer 1963. Other Sakamoto singles are "Elimo" b/w "Why" and "Tankobushi" b/w "Olympics Song." His only U.S. LP, Sukiyaki and Other Japanese Hits, was released that same year. "Sukiyaki," now a standard, has been a hit for A Taste of Honey and for '90s R&B group Four P.M. At the age of 43, Kyu Sakamoto died in a plane crash that killed 520 people on August 12, 1985, near Tokyo, Japan. ~ Ed Hogan