Beverly Hills Lingual Institute
Beverly Hills Lingual Institute
Beverly Hills Lingual Institute
Beverly Hills Lingual Institute

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I Look Up As I Walk

From Japan, here's an evergreen tune about smiling through the tears. You may know it as "the Sukiyaki song." You'll no doubt have heard it, or perhaps its riffs in one of the many remakes it has inspired across several genres of music.

Some say lyricist Rokusuke Ei got the idea trudging home dejectedly from a failed student protest against the continued U.S. Army presence in his country. Others maintain he had his heart broken by actress Meiko Nakamura.

Whatever the inspiration, a series of verses about loss came together in his mind. In them, the protagonist looked up and whistled as he walked, so that his tears of sorrow would not fall.

Ei's songwriting partner, composer Hachidai Nakamura, set them to music in the vein of a new style becoming popular in the Japanese music scene of the early '60s. "Kayoukyoku," based upon Western pop/ rock, was replacing "enka."

In 1961, then just 19 years old, Japanese crooner Kyu Sakamoto recorded "Ue o Muite Arukō" (上を向いて歩こう, "I Look Up As I Walk").

I look up when I walk
So the tears won't fall
Remembering those happy spring days
But tonight I'm all alone
I look up when I walk
Counting the stars with tearful eyes
Remembering those happy summer days
But tonight I'm all alone
Happiness lies beyond the clouds
Happiness lies above the sky
I look up when I walk
So the tears won't fall
Though my heart is filled with sorrow
For tonight I'm all alone
Remembering those happy autumn days
But tonight I'm all alone
Sadness hides in the shadow of the stars
Sadness lurks in the shadow of the moon
I look up when I walk
So the tears won't fall
Though my heart is filled with sorrow
For tonight I'm all alone
(Whistling)

Sakamoto's sincerity and charming smile quickly saw him nicknamed "Kyu-chan," an affectionate diminutive. Released by Toshiba, the song raced to the top of the charts.

Louis Benjamin of Pye Records heard Ue o Muite Arukō while traveling in Japan. He had an instrumental version recorded by Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen, which hit tenth place in the British charts.

Capitol Records picked up the song in 1963. The song was renamed, "Sukiyaki," after a Japanese hot-pot dish of slowly-cooked meat and vegetables. Though it has nothing to with the song's lyrics, the name was thought both appropriately Japanese, and more easily remembered by English speakers.

Despite its incomprehensible lyrics, the song's earnestness and melodic beauty proved irresistible. Against the odds, on June 15th, 1963, "Sukiyaki" ousted Leslie Gore's "It's My Party" to become the No. 1 popular song in the U.S.

The song remains one of the few non-Indo-European language songs to have achieved this.

Well-known English-language cover versions of Ue o Muite Arukō with altogether different lyrics include "My First Lonely Night" by Jewel Akens in 1966, and "Sukiyaki" by A Taste of Honey in 1980.

The song has been used in many film and TV series, including M*A*S*H (even as the song was recorded long after the end of the Korean War).

Notably, a group of musicians from the areas affected by the tsunami and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 played the song in a prayer of hope released to the world as "Sing Out from Japan."

One of Japan's oldest alcoholic beverage companies, Suntory, also re-released Ue o Muite Arukō in a series of ads encouraging the nation overcome the devastation and to "look up as we walk." A compilation by hero3bash follows.

Ue o Muite Arukō is the best-selling non-English single ever, and among the best-selling singles of all time, having outsold every Beatles single and mustered a total of more than 13 million copies worldwide.

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