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Saturday, April 30, 2016


Let us go back to the Summer of 1963 when out of nowhere Kyu Sakamoto's Sukiyaki hit #1 on the Billboard 100, and stayed at the top for three weeks.  Why?  No other Japanese song had ever tracked on Billboard, and 53 years later, there has not been another.

Japan was finally recovering from the devastation of World War II, but there was constant rioting by Japanese students exhibiting dissatisfaction about America's continued presence in the country.  Interesting now that they want us to stay.  Tokyo was a year away from hosting the 1964 Summer Olympics.  Anyway, the song evoked the hope for a fresh start:

Walking along, looking up, so that the teardrops won't flow out of my eyes / I look back on a spring day on this lonely night / A good fortune is beyond the clouds / A good fortune is beyond the sky / So I'm looking up and I'm looking forward, imagining that good fortune in the future.

The problem in the USA was that the whole thing was sung in Japanese and no one had the faintest idea what it meant.  Says how much lyrics dominate over words in songs  The Japanese title means I Look Up When I Walk.  Has nothing to do with food.  Here is the English translation.

In 1985 when he was 43 Sakamoto boarded Japan Air 123 at Haneda.  It never made it to Osaka, for 12 minutes into flight part of the tail of the Boeing 747 ripped off and the passengers endured 32 minutes of agony before the plane crashed, killing 520, the deadliest single-craft accident in history.  Amazingly enough, four survived, and here is an account of what happened.  I had a friend who was just late for this flight and insisted on being let on.  They denied him, so at the gate he wrote an official letter of protest.  He still has it.

The only Japanese song that was composed in Hawaii and became popular in Japan is Francis Zanami's, Wakare No Isochidori.  That album above can be purchased from, used, for $1.96.   Click HERE to access all the songs from the Club Nisei CD. Amazon sells the CD to the left for 99 cents.  There is something to this song that brings tears to my eyes...but I don't know why.  Zanami's Hawaii hit became popular in Japan in 1952. Unfortunately, three years earlier, a heart attack killed him at the age of 34.    He is the third person from the left in the top row below.

I had to find this photo because there are several reports that he died at the age of 44.  However, as shown above on his gravestone at the Moiliili Japanese Cemetery, he passed away in 1949 at the age of 34.

Another song that I sometimes ask the Mama-san in Japanese karaoke bars to sing is Ginza Kan Kan Musume (here by Jane Itai, neeJane Yoshino) of Hawaii.  The original was sung by Hideko Takamine in 1949.  She came from Hakodate and was considered to be the Shirley Temple of Japan.  The movie version of Takamine (right) with Shizuko Kasagi.      

Without  a doubt the all-time #1 song in the world, from South Korea, by Psy, is Gangnam Style.  It was released on 15 July 2012, immediately hit #1 in Korea, by November of that year passed Baby by Justin Bieber as most watched video, and when I clicked on today, made me the 2,565,138,956th viewer.

Baby is not quite yet up to 1.4 billion, and has fallen to #9.  #2 is, not kidding, Wiz Khalifa - See You Again ft. Charlie Puth from the Furious 7 Soundtrack at almost 1.7 billion.  So I spent many minutes going down the list, and saw at 282 Whtney Houston's I will Always Love You with 256 million, at 387 Michael Jackson's Billy Jean with 209 billion and #700, Weird Al Yankovic's White & Nerdy  with 105 million.

Here is an Obama impersonator, Prime Minister David Cameron's parody, and again...and Psy teaching Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon how to dance to that tune.  When I visit Seoul next month, I'm staying in a next generation hotel which will allow me to catch the elevator to the basement, get on Line #2, quickly taking me to Gangnam, where I will buy a few shirts.  I live an exciting life.


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