I Like Sukiyaki

A short essay by Haruki Murakami, from the book Murakami Radio.

Do you like sukiyaki? I’m a fan. As a kid I was excited whenever I was told it was Sukiyaki Night.

But after a certain point in my life (I’m not sure exactly when) nobody around me has liked sukiyaki. Everyone I ask replies with the same indifference. “Sukiyaki? Yeah, not really my thing.” My wife tells me sukiyaki is something she’s fine eating once every five years. I can’t really recall eating sukiyaki since we got married. Once every five years? The Olympics happen more often than that. Is there anyone out there who wants to get sukiyaki with me? I’m more into the veggies, so it’d be great if you prefer eating the meat. No, I mean it!

As you probably know, Kyu Sakamoto’s song “I Look Up As I Walk” was sold in the United States under the name “Sukiyaki.” Back in 1963 I was shocked that they gave the song such an unfitting name but hey, it spent three consecutive weeks at Number 1 on the Billboard charts, was an overwhelming success, and became know all over the world as “The Sukiyaki Song.” You can still hear it being played on oldies stations in America. It came on as I was driving cross country, smack dab in the middle of the sprawling plains of Minnesota. It warmed my heart. It’s such a good song. Look, it shouldn’t replace the national anthem, but I’ve been saying for years that it should be our secondary one. What do you think?

I read a book that finally cleared up a question that had been bugging me forever: how did “I Look Up As I Walk” become “Sukiyaki”? Apparently it was because this English Dixieland jazz group named “The Kenny Ball Band” decided to record it under the original Japanese name “Ueomuitearukou” but nobody could remember it. Someone at the studio suggested that they just call it “Sukiyaki” instead, and that became the new title. They used the same name when Kyu Sakamoto’s original recording was later sold in America. There’s no denying that the new name was inaccurate, but you know what? I think it’s a good name. It’s easy to remember and it has a nice familiar feel to it. But most of all I’m open to it because I like sukiyaki.

Did you know that following the success of “Sukiyaki”, Shoji Suzuki’s “A Tree-Lined Path” was sold in America as “Sushi”? Unfortunately it didn’t achieve the same popularity. But it would have been really funny if they’d kept selling Japanese songs in America with food names like “Tempura” and “Sashimi.” You’d get hungry just listening to the radio.

Now that I say that, writing this essay has made be crave some sukiyaki.