Sakiko was born in Japan in 1939, the only child of a painter and a philosophy professor. Her mother died when she was young and she was brought up by her grandparents. Mikuni in those days was a small farming-and-fishing village on the Japan Sea. The nearest sizeable town was one hour away.

When she was 12, she moved to Kochi to join her father, who by then had secured a position at the local university. Kochi was a medium-sized city. She went to secondary school there, got her first piano, and learned English from an American missionary family. When she thought about university, this family suggested Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

In 1959, she sailed from Kobe for San Francisco. The journey took two weeks, and she remembers the thrill of passing under the Golden Gate Bridge. She then boarded a train for a one-week trip across the western United States to Chicago, and finally on to Michigan, where she arrived with a suitcase marked "Sakiko Kanamori, Hope College, USA".

At Hope, she intended to concentrate on social science, but in her first year, she joined the college choir. Two years later, she sang for the Metropolitan Opera and was encouraged to move to New York. With her Hope degree in hand, she started at the Juilliard School of Music in 1963.

After completing her M.Sc., Sakiko entered the Metropolitan Opera auditions. She won the Eastern regionals and went on to share first prize in the National finals. She was the first National Council winner from East Asia.

Her goal was an opera career in Germany. In 1968, when the Städtische Bühnen Essen offered her a contract, she became one of only two Japanese female soloists in German opera houses. Her repertoire there and in other European venues later included Manon in Massenet's Manon, Leila in Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Nanetta in Falstaff, and Violetta in La Traviata. Between 1969 and 1981, she appeared in more than 400 opera performances.

She also had an active concert career. Her focus was on German lieder, as well as on 19th-20th century French chansons and 20th century American songs. She performed in Villa Hügel in Essen, the Gürzenich in Köln, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and the Doelen in Rotterdam.

In 1964, Sakiko married Byron Mook, an American specialist in agricultural development. Between opera and concert performances, they had one son and she commuted to India, Sri Lanka, and Sudan (where they lived for one year and she learned Arabic). They then settled in the Netherlands and had another son. Barry and Dennis are now both medical doctors.

In May 2004, Sakiko suddenly developed meningococcal sepsis, a rare bacteria-based blood infection. She died in August 2004.