Kyu Sakamoto, born Hisashi Oshima, December 10, 1941 - August 12, 1985) was a Japanese singer and actor. He is ranked at number 18 in a list of Japan's top 100 influential musicians by HMV Japan.
Sakamoto was born in Kawasaki, Kanagawa prefecture as the youngest among nine siblings (his given name Kyu (?) means 'nine'). His parents, Hiroshi Sakamoto and Iku Sakamoto, both worked at a restaurant. In high school Sakamoto began to sing and became very popular in local clubs. In 1958 he joined the Japanese pop-band "The Drifters" as a singer. In 1959 he signed with Toshiba and released his first record the following year. He had several hits, and appeared on TV and in movies.
His biggest hit was "Ue o Muite Aruko" (Looking Up As I Walk), about a man trying to hold his tears, which went to #1 and sold over 500,000 copies in Japan. The song was written by pianist Hachidai Nakamura, with words by Rokusuke Ei, who is said to have written the lyrics after having his heart broken by actress Meiko Nakamura.
Louis Benjamin, the head of the UK's Pye Records, heard the song while visiting Japan and took a copy home. He had the clarinet led trad-jazz group Kenny Ball & the Jazzmen do a cover version of it, which he re-titled "Sukiyaki" after his favorite Japanese cuisine, and had it go into the top ten. Shortly thereafter DJ Richard Osbourne of the Pasco, Washington radio station KORD started playing Sakamoto's original version, using the "Sukiyaki" title.
Requests for the song put it into heavy rotation, and soon after Capitol picked up the record. The song went to #1 in Billboard for three weeks, and sold over a million copies in the States. A follow up release "China Nights" made it to #58 in Billboard, and an album containing both called Sukiyaki & Other Japanese Hits was also released. The original Kyu Sakamoto version of the song was also later released in the UK, and like the cover, went into the top 10. "Sukiyaki" was also a hit in Germany, and became quite well known worldwide.
Many people have recorded the song, and there are R&B, reggae, Latin, surf and lounge renditions of it. A number of artists playing in Japan, including Bob Dylan, have performed versions live. In 1981 the American female soul duo A Taste of Honey remade "Sukiyaki" and had it chart for 24 weeks and go to #3 in Billboard. In 1995 a version by 4PM went to #8. The song was also recorded by Latin superstar Selena.
In the summer of 1963 Kyu went out on a world tour that lasted to the beginning of 1964. A few of the countries that he visited included the United States (including Hawaii), Germany, and Sweden. When Sakamoto visited the United States he was a guest on The Tonight Show with Steve Allen, he was supposed to be on The Ed Sullivan Show but it was cancelled due to the recording of his upcoming movie "Kyu chan no katana wo uite." Kyu worked very hard for old, young and handicapped people in Japan. "Ashita Ga Aru Sa" was the leading theme of the 1964 Handicap Olympics in Tokyo.
Sadly and prematurely, 43-year-old Kyu Sakamoto was killed on 12 August 1985, when JAL Flight 123, a 747 bound from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Osaka, lost pieces of its tail sections and spiraled downward nightmarishly for 30 minutes (long enough for Sakamoto to write a farewell note to his wife, Yukiko Kashiwagi. Married in 1971, they had two daughters, Hanako and Maiko.) The plane crashed and burned on a thickly wooded mountain about 60 miles northwest of Tokyo, killing 520 and injuring four, in the worst single airplane disaster in Japanese aviation history.
Although Kyu Sakamoto's golden voice was stilled, his songs remain popular in Japan and overseas.
There are lots of videos of Sukiyaki but I found this one. Machikado no uta (Kyu-chan's Big Dream (Kyu-chan no Dekkai Yume, 1967)