I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Kyu Sakamoto -- Shiawase nara Te wo Tatakou/Te no Hira no Uta (幸せなら手をたたこう・手のひらの唄)

I'm fairly sure that just about everyone who has gone through kindergarten and the early grades of elementary school has heard the song "If You're Happy And You Know It" at least a few times in class. My ancient sense memory has me remembering when I was clapping my hands while sitting cross-legged on the floor with my classmates back at Rose Avenue Public School. It is the quintessential kiddy participation tune along with "Do The Hokey-Pokey".

I also had one up on my classmates in that I used to listen to the Japanese version on the RCA Victor with my family. The title for the Japanese cover of "If You're Happy And You Know It" is "Shiawase nara Te wo Tatakou" (literally, If You're Happy, Clap Your Hands), and the origins behind the creation of the melody seem to be of some mystery...some sites have stated that the song is American in origin while other places have said that it is actually from Spain.

What I was able to find out was that the person who wrote up the Japanese lyrics is Rihito Kimura(木村利人), now a Professor Emeritus in Bioethics at Waseda University. During his university student days, he was doing some volunteer work in the Philippines when he first heard "If You're Happy" and on his way back to Japan, he wrote those lyrics. It became a popular song to be sung among his buddies (most likely well-fueled by alcohol), but one day, the late singer Kyu Sakamoto(坂本九)just happened to hear Kimura and his friends singing it. Sakamoto apparently liked what he heard and then relayed the song to composer Taku Izumi(いずみたく)who promptly made it into a Sakamoto single released in May 1964.

I re-discovered the 45" again just yesterday and when I played it on the TEAC, the jaunty melody fired up the old nostalgia neurons again. When I was a kid, I hadn't known that it was Kyu-chan, the man behind "Ue wo Muite Arukou"(上を向いて歩こう), who was also taking care of this cover of a children's classic. It was obvious back then as it is now that the recording was done at some sort of event with Sakamoto happily fooling around with the audience and his bandmates (perhaps The Drifters?). Who better to perform this song than the ever-grinning Kyu-chan who can make sad lyrics sound like the happiest message? And I have to say it was pretty inspired to adapt "If You're Happy" for Japanese audiences since it seems that singalongs are especially popular with the Japanese no matter the age or generation. Not surprisingly, "Shiawase nara Te wo Tatakou" quickly became a big hit nationwide.

(I'm sorry but the video has been taken down.)

The B-side is "Te no Hira no Uta" (Song of the Palm of Your Hand). Created by Akifumi Iguro and Nobuo Terahara(伊黒昭文・寺原信夫), this is another happy song with Sakamoto encouraging folks to not suffer the blues alone but to get out and talk it over with other people. Considering some of the issues that folks today are going through, I think the message is still extremely relevant.


  1. Kyu Sakamoto was my introduction to Japanese music. The first song I heard of his was what was popularized as "Sukiyaki" in the states, and ever since then I've been a fan of his. It's very tragic that such a cheerful and spirited musician met such a terrible end, but his music will live on forever.

    1. I can perhaps say as well that Kyu-chan was my introduction since "Sukiyaki" was one of the earliest songs that I'd heard as a toddler. Of course, I wasn't in Japan when the airplane crashed into the woods of Gunma Prefecture but I did see some of the videos which had news about Sakamoto's untimely death. One of them included footage of enka singer Shinichi Mori tearfully singing "Miagetegoran Yoru no Hoshi wo" on "Yoru no Hit Studio". Most likely there wasn't a dry eye in the place.


Feel free to provide any comments (pro or con). Just be civil about it.