The Sukiyaki Song and Its Connection to Japan Airlines Flight 123

Updated on April 29, 2016
Kaili Bisson profile image

Rockin’ before she could walk, a vinyl hound who can’t remember a thing because the words to all songs from 1960-2017 are stuck in her head.

Kyu Sakamoto, Singer of the Japanese Version of Sukiyaki

Kyu Sakamoto was only 19 when he recorded Sukiyaki.
Kyu Sakamoto was only 19 when he recorded Sukiyaki. | Source

The Sukiyaki Song

Anyone born in the late 50s or prior, or anyone who is a fan of 60s pop music, will recognize this song immediately.

Sukiyaki.

The English translation for sukiyaki is ‘to slice thinly’ (suki) and ‘to fry, boil or sear’ (yaki). The Japanese dish we all know and love is typically a noodle dish with stir fried vegetables and either beef or chicken in a delicious soy broth.

So, how on earth did this sad song come to be named after a Japanese food?

The song is about a man who walks with his face to the night sky, counting the stars, so that his tears won’t fall.

Ue wo Muite Arukō

The song was first released in Japan in 1961 under its Japanese title Ue wo Muite Arukō, which means I Look Up As I Walk. It was written by a Japanese composer and author by the name of Rokusuke Ei.

There are two versions to the story about how he came up with the lyrics. One version suggests that Rokusuke was walking home from a protest over the continued U.S. military presence in Japan and was saddened by the fact that the protests did not seem to be having the desired result. The other far more romantic version of the story says that he had his heart broken by a Japanese actress by the name of Meiko Nakamura.

The song was a huge hit in Japan in 1961, and in 1962 a British record executive from Pye Records by the name of Louis Benjamin heard the song while visiting Japan, and knew he had to bring this hit home to the UK. The song ‘Sukiyaki’ – the name was chosen as it was easier for English speaking people to remember and be able to pronounce – was recorded as a purely instrumental tune by a popular British band called Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen, and it reached number 10 on the British music charts. The label His Master’s Voice (HMV) then released the original Japanese version in the UK.

The song then crossed the ocean to the US when a DJ heard the British version, and managed to get his hands on a copy of the original Japanese version. He also called the song Sukiyaki, which was already a word familiar to Americans because of the food. Capital Records in the U.S. licensed and released the original Japanese version using the more familiar Sukiyaki name in June of 1963.

The DJ’s daughter was at college with a girl who had lived in Japan for a time and had a copy of the original.

Who Sang Sukiyaki?

The original Japanese version of the song was performed by a young actor and singer by the name of Kyu Sakamoto. Kyu began his musical career in 1958 as part of a band, but things really took off for him when he recorded Ue wo Muite Arukō at the age of 19. The song was released on vinyl in October of 1961 and remained in top spot in Japan for three months. Kyu embarked on a world tour in 1963 and visited the U.S., where he appeared on The Steve Allen Show.

Today, Sukiyaki remains one of the top selling single songs ever, with 13 million records sold.

I Look Up As I Walk

JAL Airlines Flight 123

At 6:04 p.m. on August 12, 1985 Japan Airlines (JAL) flight 123 took off from Japan’s Narita Airport on route to Osaka International Airport, about an hour and a half away. Twelve minutes into the flight, when the aircraft had nearly reached its cruising altitude, an explosive decompression took place in the pressurized bulkhead that sits between the passenger cabin and the tail of the plane. The failure stemmed from an incorrect repair that had been made to the plane fully seven years earlier, when the tail of the aircraft had struck the tarmac.

As the plane climbed and pressurized, cracks that had gone undetected over the seven years since the original repair began to grow. The rear bulkhead exploded violently, causing the ceiling to collapse at the back of the plane and sending pressurized air from the cabin rushing backward toward the tail section. A huge piece of the aircraft’s tail was sheared off and the hydraulic lines critical for steering the plane were completely severed.

Emergency oxygen masks dropped from the overhead compartments, and the captain immediately called out 'Squawk 77', an emergency request that was picked up by operations in Tokyo. Despite his request to attempt to reach Haneda airport, the pilot was instructed to head for Nagoya Airfield, a former international hub.

But the plane was failing fast. With no hydraulics and no tail to stabilize the aircraft, it began flying in a rolling uphill and downhill motion, speeding up, and then slowing down, over and over. The crew made a desperate attempt to gain some sort of control over the aircraft, using the flaps and throttle to try to steer it. The plane had descended to the 13,500 foot level, then to 7,000 feet, before climbing once again to 13,000 feet. There, she fell into a sharp descent, one of her wings clipping a mountain ridge. She then crashed into a second mountain ridge and came to rest on her back.

The U.S. Air Force scrambled a military transport C-130 Hercules plane from its base at Yokata Air Base, near the flight path the plane had taken, and was the first to spot the wreckage about 20 minutes after JAL 123 disappeared from radar.

The cockpit voice recording from JAL Airlines 123

A Sad Song For A Sad Story

The passengers on the disabled plane had 32 minutes from the time of the depressurization until the crash, enabling some of them to actually write farewell notes to their loved ones. Of the 509 passengers and 15 crew aboard the aircraft, four people actually survived. The official investigation after the crash determined that there could have been more survivors if rescue operations had been launched immediately, as doctors later discovered that some passengers had died from shock and exposure in the cold mountain air. The crash remains the deadliest single plane accident in aviation history.

And Kyu Sakamoto, the man who sang about looking skyward so his tears would not fall, was among the passengers who died in the crash of JAL 123.

JAL Airlines has not used 123 as a flight number since that terrible day in 1985.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Kaili Bisson

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        Veronica 

        10 months ago

        Very sweet!! As a young girl growing up In Jamaica.i dont know the language but was so touched by the lyrics of this song.my God can you imagine!! A littke girl loving this song and have no idea the history behind it.it was two weeks ago, my daughter's father- in- law was taking about this young man and he mention the song Suki Yaki, and the memories of my childwood days came back, how much i loved it.i started

      • profile image

        Mario Saseve 

        13 months ago

        Absolutely beautiful!!

        I've always loved this song growing up. And never knew why I couldn't stop crying when I'd listen to it. I wasn't even born when Kyu passed, but I'm ever so grateful for his magic to be left for us to bask in and experience. :)

      • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

        Kaili Bisson 

        16 months ago from Canada

        Hi Robert, you are most welcome. I love this tune, and seeing the English translation and knowing the circumstances of his death make it all very bittersweet.

      • Robert Sacchi profile image

        Robert Sacchi 

        16 months ago

        I remember the song and when JAL123 crashed. They mentioned Kyu Sakamoto was one of those killed on board. An English version of the song came out about 1980. Thanks for writting the Hub.

      • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

        Kaili Bisson 

        17 months ago from Canada

        Hello Rock and thank you for reading and leaving a message. It truly is a beautiful song. I'm glad you enjoyed this...the song has always been a favorite of mine.

      • profile image

        Rockriley 

        17 months ago

        I forgot to mention the plane crashed on my wife's birthday (1954). Guess I will always remember his fate was somehow synced with my wife's birthday. Love the site, thanks!

      • profile image

        Rockriley 

        17 months ago

        I like the history and the song. I must say when I did not know the lyrics, it was even more beautiful for some reason. I think I felt the soul of the song and it carried no preconceptions and that allowed me to imagine what was so obviously sad and yet expressed in such a beautiful way!

      • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

        Kaili Bisson 

        22 months ago from Canada

        Hello Mel and thank you! So sorry...just seeing your comment now (vacation and all that). I just love this tune.

      • Mel Carriere profile image

        Mel Carriere 

        2 years ago from San Diego California

        I had not heard of the Sukiyaki song, but it's a terrific tune. I think I've heard that opening instrumental line on about 100 commercials, however, although I can't recall any specific ones. This young man had a great voice, it's really tragic. Great article.

      • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

        Kaili Bisson 

        2 years ago from Canada

        Hello Patricia,

        I am so glad you enjoyed this story.

        I may redirect the angels your way as you have more need right now.

        xo

        Kaili

      • pstraubie48 profile image

        Patricia Scott 

        2 years ago from sunny Florida

        Lovely song...had no idea of its meaning....so glad I stopped to read. What a tragic ending, ironical at best, to his life...

        It is always so interesting to me to hear the back story as it increases my appreciation for the story or song.

        Angels are once again headed your way ps

      • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

        Kaili Bisson 

        2 years ago from Canada

        Hello Flourish and thank you for reading this. Very true...when I first heard the story, I couldn't get the song out of my head for days. The cosmos does work in strange ways...bigger ways than we will ever be able to fathom.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 years ago from USA

        Wow, this is tragic and makes you really wonder about coincidences from a cosmic perspective.

      • Kaili Bisson profile imageAUTHOR

        Kaili Bisson 

        2 years ago from Canada

        Hello Ron and thank you for reading and commenting.

        I just love the song too, and had read about his fate years ago. I was humming the song the other day and thought the story would make a good hub.

        P.S. I just followed you and left some fan mail...we have some interests in common :-)

      • RonElFran profile image

        Ronald E Franklin 

        2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        Sukiyaki has always been one of my favorite songs, even though I had no idea what the words meant. But I love the haunting melody, and still listen to it regularly. Hearing of the fate of the young man who sang it adds a new level of poignancy to the song.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, spinditty.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://spinditty.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)