samedi 16 septembre 2017

Sakamoto Kyû (坂本 九) - Eng

As indicated in my article on Ue wo muite arukô (Sukiyaki)Sakamoto Kyu, its first singer gained an international fame and even became one of the most known Japanese, at least indirectly, of his too short era. Beyond this Japanese song, the best sold in the world, and many other Japanese standards some of them may sound familiar to you 😲, he was a very popular actor and animator, in particular a supporter of handicaped people. 

Sakamoto Kyû (坂本 九)

The King of J-Music

1e publication : 16/09/2017
Dernière MaJ: 16/09/2017


In 1956 with an elder sister
Sakamoto Kyû (坂本 九), born on the 10th of December 1941 in Kawasaki (川崎, prefecture of Kanagawa), officially named as Ôshima Hisashi (大島 九), was given this first name because he was the 9th child (九, kyû, ku ou parfois hisashi, = 9) ! He spends the 1st years of his childhood in the countryside of Ibaraki to avoid the bombing of World War 2, then his family comes back in Kawasaki where his father opens a restaurant. But in 1956, his parents divorce and he finishes growing with his mother a 2 other young children taking the maiden name of his mother, while the older children stay with his father, Sakamoto Hiroshi. He gets interested in music during highschool, a period where he starts appearing in some American clubs, singing some Elvis Presley or Little Richard, and joins in 1958 a band of novelty songs and rock'n roll which will become famous only some time later: The Drifters.

He doesn't feel well in this big band where there is a lot of competition to sing. By the end of 1958, he joins the one of his comrade Iida Hisahiko,  Danny Iida to Paradise King, replacing the former singer and meets his first success: as soon as June 1959, they sign to JVC, then in 1960, they get known to a wide audience with Kanashiki Rokujissai, a surprisingly Arabian-styled song. In parallel, he starts an actor career in theatre and cinema.

Original jacket of "Sukiyaki"
In 1961, he is taken by Toshiba for a solo career which starts very strongly with Ue wo muite arukô (mondialement connue sous le titre Sukiyaki), which arrives on top of the charts in Japan of course, but also in the United States 😲, followed by a 2nd international song, Shina no yoru (China nights), with a lower success, which allows him to make a world tour (USA, Sweden, Germany...). He is then naturally invited to participate in the animation of the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964 (theme song Tokyo Go-Rin Ondo, live at a welcome party...), then he participates in a concert to fulfill the budget of the following Paralympic Games, only the 2nd ever organized at this time. By the way, he will invest himself in spreading the sign language all his life.

At the begining of the 70s, "Kyu-chan", as he is friendly nicknamed, becomes a TV personality who gets involved as well as a member of the Universal Exposition of Osaka's comity in 1970 (for which he also sings Sekai no Kuni kara Konnichiwa), as in variety TV shows, and he gets married with the actress Kashiwagi Yukiko in 1971, with who he has got 2 children. His disc releases become rare and it is his last participation to the famous NHK's Kouhaku Uta Gassen (11 apparitions in a row since 1961 !).


Kashiwagi Yukiko and their 2 daughters, Ôshima Hanako (singer) and Maiko (with the stage name Maisaka Yukiko, former member of the prestigious revue Takarazuka), in 2012. All 3 sing sometime together under the name "Maman et ses filles" (a French name ^^) !

At the begining of 1985, he changes label in order to focus again on songs; unfortunately he deceases in the crash of the flight 123 Tokyo-Osaka on the 12th of August 1985 which left only 4 miraculous survivors among more than 500 passengers, after the explosion of the central motor and rudder ! It is a bad fate as Sakamoto usually traveled with ANA, but he had to change for this JAL flight  because ANA was already full. Several legends and omens then have been told in relaion with the number 9 (in reference to his first name). For instance that his body was found 99h after the crash or that one of his regular show was in its 9th year... In fact, the body was found with all the others, nearly 48h after the crash because of the remote site, but identified only later, which explains why a show he had recorded and which was broadcast on the 13th finished with a message whishing him safe...
On his grave is written a part of the song Miagete goran yoru no hoshi wo ("Raise your eyes to the evening stars").

Picture from the movie Ue wo muite arukou


Sakamoto Kyu grew up in a place and a time full of occasions of culture and musical styles mixes, between the country of his childhood and the harbour surrounds frequented by American soldiers. He keeps thus a voice tone influenced by the vibrato and melism of traditional songs and Ryuukouka (Japanised version of Western styles popular between both World Wars), which will go on through the Enka. But he sings with a more modern style, in a higher tone and less "seriously" than his colleagues, spreading in particular the rockn'roll (Sutekina TimingKyu-chan no Zun-tatatta...), participating to the birth of Kayôkyoku, ancestor of J-Pop. The songs he performed and his style own a kind of untemporality and universality which, I guess, would touch everybody, Japanese or not, still today.

Beside numerous tribute shows and covers of his songs, an asteroid was even named after him (see Ue wo muite arukô) !
In 1999, Japanese post launched a commemorative stamp of 50 yens as a reference to all these "9" ("kyuu") ^^ !
Fans could find a museum dedicated to him in... Kuriyama (栗山), on Hokkaido island, where he was hosting a regular show.

Several of his great standards can be heard in some stations for the arrival or departure of trains, particularly in Kasama (笠間) in the prefecture of his childhood, Ibaraki, and in Kawasaki. On the contrary, it is told that JAL avoids, by respect or superstition, the presence of any Sakamoto's song, even covers, since the crash ! I did not have yet the occasion to check it; and you ?

Similar artists

Japan: since 2016, Hoshino Gen seems to walk on the same path (musical success, dramas, cheerfulness...). In more "serious" style, there is of course the actor-singer Fukuyama Masaharu.

World: If he doesn't have the same belly swing than one of his first models, Elvis Presley, he shares the same musical and cinema success, and a too early end surrounded by legends. One can cites Frank Sinatra, when he sings ballads, or Johnny Hallyday in his yéyé period.

Great Standards :

First performer:

Ue wo muite arukô (Sukiyaki)
Miagete goran, Yoru no Hoshi wo
Ashita ga aru sa

Covers :

Shiawase nara, Te wo tatakou

Discography (selection) :

Affiliate links to CDJapan. Audio samples available. Thank you for alloowing cookies if you enjoyed this article m(_ _)m.

Kyu Sakamoto Mermorial Best / Kyu Sakamoto
08/2004: Best of ; includes his best hits (including from the period Danny Iida to Paradise King): Kanashiki RokujussaiUe wo muite arukou, Miagete goran Yoru no Hoshi wo, Ashita ga aru sa, Shiawase nara Te wo tatakou...

From Kokuriko Hill Original Soundtrack (Kokuriko Zaka Kara) / Animation Soundtrack (Satoshi Takebe)
Animation Soundtrack (Satoshi Takebe)
07/2011: Ue wo muite arukou can be found too on the Original Soundtrack album of Ghibli's animation movie From up on Poppy Hill.


Sources: wikipedia JP,  TV reports...

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