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Sukiyaki revisited

May 3, 2011

Two years ago, I wrote something about Sukiyaki.  It was more about the food than the song.  Today I learned something new: Suki 鋤 (which is the character for spade) and yaki 焼 (which is the character for burnt or cooked or fried, you might have eaten or seen on a menu  “tori-yaki” or “nabe-yaki udon” or “dora-yaki”) is telling me that it probably started when someone is so poor, they cooked on the spade instead of the wok/pot?

The Japanese.tutor has a history section that says it was an aristocrat who demanded that his peasant cook the hunted meat on a spade hence the name 鋤焼 or 鋤焼き.

But today that word “sukiyaki” has come back to haunt me.  I first heard of this song and sang it when I was 14.  It was on a bus (NPCC) together with many other 14 year-olds on a trip to Malaysia.  When I browsed the internet for the English lyrics, I realized the version I sang was by Blue Diamonds doo-wop duo of the 60s who were Dutch-Indonesian and had the Dutch version and German version on YouTube too.  (click here to hear some)

The original Japanese singer (Kyu Sakamoto) shot to fame but the Blue Diamonds brothers was even more famous.  Maybe because more people in the world listened to the English/Dutch/German language than the Japanese language at that time.   Also during those days, English brought in more revenue than Japanese.

So I googled the lyrics and found one site with one original Japanese version and 3 different English versions.  The version by Taste of Honey sounded very familiar to me.  And my favourite YouTube singer, AJ Rafael, sang it together with his Japanese friends whilst in Boston.

My daughter wanted to sing it too.  I thought I should teach her “Hana” (by Rimi Natsukawa) or “Koibitoyo” (by Mayumi Itsuwa) as her first Japanese song.  But she was already memosrising her Blue Diamond and Taste of Honey version and begged me to sing her the Japanese version.  With the lyrics in her hand, (since the Japanese lyrics is really in romanji), she picked it up within a few days.  to a level of what the Chinese would say 滚瓜烂熟。She won’t stop humming that song for a month at least:

Next song for my daughter:  I think I’ll just stick with “Amazing Grace” or something.

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