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Kyu Sakamoto

A Japanes singer, songwriter.

A Japanese singer and actor, best known outside of Japan for his international hit song "Sukiyaki", which was sung in Japanese and sold over 13 million copies. It reached number one in the United States Billboard Hot 100 in June 1963.

Kyu Sakamoto was born on 10 November 1941, in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture to the tender cargo officer Hiroshi Sakamoto and Iku Oshima. He was the youngest among nine siblings—his nickname Kyu, meaning 'nine', is an alternate reading of the kanji (九) for his given name (Hisashi).

Iku had two sons from an earlier relationship and Hiroshi three sons and three daughters. Kyu was their third and last child together.

In the summer of 1944 during the air raids over the greater Tokyo area, including Kawasaki, Iku fled with the younger children, including Kyu, and his siblings Teruaki, Yachiyo and Azuma to their grandparents, Seri and Aou Oshima who lived on the countryside in Kasama.

In the summer of 1949 the family was reunited and moved back to Kawasaki. Like many other Japanese companies, Hiroshi's office was disbanded by the American occupation forces. Shortly after that, he started a restaurant together with Iku.

In 1956, when Sakamoto was still in junior high school, his parents divorced. It was Hiroshi's heavy drinking and long history of economic problems that made them separate. Iku was given custody over the minor children they had together and they were given the surname "Oshima" while the remaining children kept the family name "Sakamoto".

When Sakamoto began high school his interest in music grew and he started playing the trumpet in the school band. He began singing later and became very popular. In 1958 he joined the Japanese pop-band "The Drifters" as a singer.

In May 1958, when Sakamoto was 16 years old he joined the Japanese pop-band The Drifters that had been formed three years earlier. Sakamoto was unhappy about his position in the band as second singer and this often led to fights with the other members. His big breakthrough as a band member came 26 August 1958 when he sang at the annual music festival "Western Carnival" at the Nichigeki hall. After a quarrel that ended in a fight with two of the other members, Sakamoto left the band in November 1958.

For a short period of time, Sakamoto returned to his studies and focused on entering the university. But in December 1958, he joined his classmate's Hisahiko Iida's band called "Danny Iida and Paradise King".

He replaced Hiroshi Mizuhara as singer. Sakamoto's career took off, he ended his studies and left school. In June 1959, the band got a record deal at the JVC record company. "Danny Iida and Paradise King" and Sakamoto released their song "Kanashiki rokujyussai" in August 1960, which became a great hit. In the time after they released a number of songs that became very popular.

This led to Sakamoto obtaining a record deal at the Toshiba Records company and left "Danny Iida & Paradise King" aiming at a solo career.

Sakamoto's solo career was inaugurated with the love song "Ue o muite arukō" written by Rokusuke Ei and Hachidai Nakamura. The song was first heard on the NHK entertainment program "Yume de aimashou" on 16 August 1961. It was a great success and was released on a red vinyl on October 15. It remained the highest selling record until January 1962, three months after its release.

His international breakthrough came in 1963 during a visit to Japan by Louis Benjamin, owner of British record company Pye Records. Hearing the song several times, Benjamin decided to bring it back to England. Due to concerns that the title would be too hard for English speakers to pronounce or remember, the song was renamed "Sukiyaki". The new title was intended to sound both catchy and distinctively Japanese, but had no actual connection to the song.

Initially, Pye Records released an instrumental version of the song recorded by Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen. After it went on to become a hit in England, His Master's Voice (HMV) released the original which also sold well, reaching sixth place in HMV's most sold records. Capitol Records released the song in the USA with the alternate title, eventually selling over one million copies and remaining number one on the "Billboard Hot 100 number one single" from June 15 to June 29.

After the international success of "Sukiyaki", Sakamoto went on a world tour that lasted from summer of 1963 to the beginning of 1964. Among the countries he visited were the United States (including Hawaii), Germany, and Sweden. During his time in the U.S., he was invited to appear in several television shows. On 13 August 1963, he landed at Los Angeles International Airport and was a guest of "The Steve Allen Show" that evening.

He was supposed to be a guest on "The Ed Sullivan Show" as well, but this appearance was canceled due to a scheduling conflict with the production of his upcoming movie, Kyu-chan katana o nu ite.

Kyu Sakamoto had only one other song reach the U.S. charts, "China Nights (Shina no Yoru)" (Capitol 5016), which peaked at number 58 in 1963. His only American album, Sukiyaki and Other Japanese Hits (Capitol 10349), peaked at number 14 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart (now known as the Billboard 200) in 1963 and remained on the Pop Albums chart for 17 weeks.

He received his sole foreign Gold Record of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) by Capitol Records on 15 May 1964 in Hotel Okura, Tokyo.

During the 1964 Summer Olympics, he was featured on the famous Swedish TV-program "Hylands Hörna" broadcast live from Tokyo.

In 1968, Sakamoto and Hachidai Nakamura participated in the international singing contest "Festival Internacional da Canção" in Rio de Janeiro with the song "Sayounara, sayounara".

[edit] Marriage and familyIn 1971, Sakamoto married Japanese actress Yukiko Kashiwagi. The couple had two daughters, Hanako and Maiko.


On August 12, 1985, Kyu Sakamoto died in the crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123, the deadliest single-aircraft accident in Japan's history, and the third deadliest plane crash in history in terms of fatalities behind the September 11, 2001, attacks and the Tenerife airport disaster.

He is interred at Chōkoku-ji Temple in Minato, Tokyo

His most popular song, "Ue o muite arukō" ("I look up when I walk") remains the only Japanese song to reach number one on the Billboard pop charts in the United States, a position it maintained for three weeks in 1963. It was also the first ever Japanese language song to enter the UK charts, though it only climbed to number 6 with no further chart entries.

"Sukiyaki" has been covered multiple times over the years, beginning with the instrumental by Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen. Well-known English-language cover versions include a 1981 cover by A Taste of Honey and a 1995 cover by 4 P.M., both of which made the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100.

In 1989, Selena's self-titled album contained a Spanish translation of the Taste of Honey cover which was released as a single in 1990. The English lyrics have also appeared in whole or in part in songs by performers including Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh (1985's "La Di Da Di"),[8] Salt-n-Pepa (1985's "The Show Stopper"), Snoop Dogg (1988's "Lodi Dodi", a "La Di Da Di" cover), Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (1995's "Bless Da 40 Oz."), Raphael Saadiq (1995's "Ask of You", another to make the Hot 100), Mary J. Blige (1997's "Everything") and Will Smith (1999's "So Fresh", featuring Slick Rick).

An American version by Jewel Akens with different American lyrics written for it. Titled 'My First Lonely Night (Sukiyaki)' in 1966, the song reached #82 on the Billboard Hot 100.

On 16 March 1999, Japan Post issued a stamp commemorating Kyu Sakamoto and "Sukiyaki". The stamp is listed in the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue as Japan number 2666 with a face value of 50 yen.

Wii Music includes "Sukiyaki" in the "handbell harmony" section.
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