Monday, October 2, 2017

Sukiyaki - Japanese to English

Sukiyaki; Japan's entry to International Pop Music

Sukiyaki was a hit Japanese song that was first released in Japan under the original title of "Ue o Muite Aruko" in 1961 with music by Hachidai Nakamura and lyrics by Ei Rokusuke. It was released under the title of "Sukiyaki" in English speaking markets simply because the Japanese beef dish was easier to pronounce than the original title.

With the song being performed by Kyu Sakamoto, it reached the number one spot on the Billboard Top 100 charts. Sakamoto even visited America to perform the song on the Steve Allen Show in 1965, all of this while the song kept the original Japanese lyrics, making the success of this catchy tune a historic success story for non-English music.

The first English version of the song to receive major attention in the US was the 1981 cover of the performed by A Taste of Honey, with the new lyrics having been written by the group's singer Janice-Marie Johnson. Rather than being a direct translation of the Japanese lyrics, the English version conveys the same sad romantic sentiments that most people took away from the lyrics of the first (some people interpret the Japanese words to signify broader themes of dejection and failure).
Janice-Marie Johnson and Hazel Payne had experience with Japan toured around US military bases. Both of the musicians can play the koto, as well as displaying general musical genius. The two appeared in traditional Japanese dress on the Sukiyaki single cover and when they appeared on Soul Train (a popular TV program known for highlighting African-American artists). In the Soul Train performance, Janice-Marie Johnson can be seen showing up a traditional fan dance while Hazel Payne plays the koto (Hazel also played the koto in other songs for the group, such as "I'll Try Something New"). This contribution to bridging cultures with thoughtful performances and respectful performances is an admirable achievement for A Taste of Honey.



Janice-Marie's version of the lyrics were carried forward by other artists who covered Sukiyaki.
One of those groups was AZ Yet who performed an R&B quartet version of the song around 1997, adding a spoken segment to the Johnson's lyrics. There were mixed reactions to this version of the song in the YouTube comments; the Japanese users had comments of praise for the performance while American users complained of the inaccuracy of the lyrics as a translation of the original Japanese (though they were consistent with Janice-Marie Johnson's lyrics).

It seems that Japanese listening were happy to see a cultural export thriving an being reproduced through new musical mediums, while the non-Japanese listeners praised the original as something fresh an inspiring that they preferred in the original form without western interpretation.



Late 1989 saw a Spanish translation of the song by Latin music star, Selena Perez before she was murdered in her twenties.




Below is a bilingual study of the lyrics. With the original Japanese words on one side an a direct translation on the opposite side.
The bottom of the page has the AZ Yet version of the song (which is the Janice-Marie Johnson lyrics with an additional spoken segment). This section is for the benefit of language lesson use:

Sukiyaki by Kyu Sakamoto (1961). Original Japanese Title: Ue o Muite Aruko
Japanese
English
Ue o muite arukou
Namida ga koborenai you ni
Omoidasu haru no hi
Hitoribotchi no yoru

Ue o muite arukou
Nijinda hoshi o kazoete
Omoidasu natsu no hi
Hitoribotchi no yoru

Shiawase wa kumo no ue ni
Shiawase wa sora no ue ni

Ue o muite arukou
Namida ga koborenai you ni
Nakinagara aruku
Hitoribotchi no yoru

[Whistling]

Omoidasu aki no hi
Hitoribotchi no yoru

Kanashimi wa hoshi no kage ni
Kanashimi wa tsuki no kage ni

Ue o muite arukou
Namida ga koborenai you ni
Nakinagara aruku
Hitoribochi no yoru
Hitoribochi no yoru
I look up as I walk
So the tear won’t fall
Remembering those spring days
But I am all alone tonight


I look up as I walk
Counting the stars with tearful eyes
Remembering those summer days
But I am all alone tonight

Happiness lies up above the clouds
Happiness lies up in the sky


I look up as I walk
So that the tears won’t fall
Though the tears well up as I walk
For tonight I am all alone

[Whistling]


Remembering those autumn days
But I am all alone tonight

Sadness lies in the shadow of the stars
Sadness lurks in the shadow of the moon


I look up as I walk
So that the tears won’t fall
Though the tears well up as I walk
But I am all alone tonight.
But I am all alone tonight.


Sukiyaki by Az Yet (1997)
It's all because of you
I’m feeling sad and blue
You went away
now my life is just a rainy day
And I love you so
How much you’ll never know


You’ve gone away and left me lonely
Untouchable memories
seem to keep haunting me


Of a love so true
That once turned all my grey skies blue
But you disappeared
Now my eyes are filled with tears
And I’m wishing you were here with me


Soft with love are my thoughts of you
Now that you are gone I just don't know what to do
If only you were here
you'd wash away my tears
The sun would shine
and once again you’d be mine, all mine
But in reality
you and I will never be
‘cause you took your love away from me


Girl, I don’t know what I did you make you leave me
But what I do know is that since you've been gone
There is such an emptiness inside
I'm wishing you'd come back to me


If only you were here
you'd wash away my tears
And the sun would shine
And once again you’ll be mine, all mine
But in reality
you and I will never be
‘cause you took your love away from me
Oh, baby
You took your love away from me
Ooooh


References:
AZ Yet version
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdK0ALLHqfg


Kyu Sakamoto version

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Qv8HQHgGmU


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