Snips, snipes, Snopes

It is not true, say the Mikkelsons, that John Steinbeck’s magnum opus is known in Japan as The Angry Grapes.

However, a similar situation they covered in the same article is just a little bit off:

Titles of translated works are often chosen by publishers (rather than translators), and a publisher’s goal is more likely to be to try to come up with a short, catchy name that will appeal to the target audience rather than to provide a faithful translation of the original title. A perfect example of this phenomenon is the case of the Japanese pop song “Ue O Muite Aruko” (literally “I Look Up When I Walk”), a hit in both the UK and America in 1963 in a cover version by jazzman Kenny Ball and the original version by Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto, respectively. Both versions were sung in Japanese, but the British record label that released Kenny Ball’s recording was concerned English-speaking audiences might find the original title too difficult to remember and pronounce, so they gave it a new title: “Sukiyaki.” (The American record label retained the British title when they released Kyu Sakamoto’s version a few months later.) Of course, sukiyaki (a sauteed beef dish) had absolutely nothing to do with the lyrics or meaning of the song; nonetheless, the word served the purpose well because it was short, catchy, recognizably Japanese, and familiar to most English speakers (very few of whom could understand the Japanese lyrics anyway) — even if, as Newsweek quipped, the re-titling was akin to issuing “Moon River” in Japan under the title “Beef Stew.”

All of which you’d know, if you’d seen my Single File piece on Sakamoto’s original, plus one other detail Snopes probably unintentionally botched: Kenny Ball’s version was not sung in Japanese, or any other spoken language. It’s purely an instrumental.

Assuming you know Sakamoto’s own recording, which was a major hit in 1963, I’m throwing in a link to the lovely post-surf version of “Sukiyaki” as performed by Big Daddy, two verses translated, one sung in the original Japanese.

(With thanks to Lauren Gilbert, who had no idea she was sending me off on one of my tangents.)


  1. jsallison »

    23 September 2013 · 6:15 pm

    On your YouTube link there’s a link to the ‘best version’ of the song, sung in engrish by a girl apparently japanese. I love songs sung by pretty girls that are acting like they’re having fun. The blue man group clip of ‘I feel love’ sung by the lead singer of Venous Hum is another. Just ignore the electric dress, or not, as is your wont. :) Singing should be fun. If you have to portray Dr Depresso shut up and stay home.

  2. CGHill »

    25 September 2013 · 7:53 am

    “Singing should be fun.” Perhaps I should quit working on “Stormy Weather.”

  3. jsallison »

    25 September 2013 · 6:20 pm

    I gave up on any pretense of tunefulness long ago. I mouth the words of the hymns at church. They keep asking me to join the choir. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

    Did I mention I also work the sound panel there and have had tinnitus since pretty much my first day on a tank range back in ’75? Me, the sound guy with tinnitus. Somehow, it was inevitable.

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