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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 June 2006, 12:13 GMT 13:13 UK
Graceland visit for Elvis' biggest fan
By Philippa Fogarty
BBC News

Prime Minister Koizumi's CD of Elvis classics (photo courtesy BMG Japan)
Mr Koizumi even created his own CD of Elvis songs (photo: BMG Japan)
Summits between US President George W Bush and Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi always attract a great deal of attention.

But while their talks on Thursday in Washington will be duly noted and reported, it is day two of the visit that most people are waiting for.

Mr Bush and Mr Koizumi are going to Graceland.

In what is widely seen as a thank you gesture to an outgoing ally, the US president is escorting Mr Koizumi to Memphis, Tennessee, where the two men will become the first leaders still in office to tour the home of rock and roll legend Elvis Presley.

It is a gesture that will delight Mr Koizumi, known both at home and abroad as a huge Elvis fan. He has sung his songs to world leaders, sung duets with celebrities and even released a CD of his favourite classics.

"I love Elvis," he told the 5,000 strong Elvis Presley Fan Club in Tokyo in 2001. "I never get tired of listening to his songs no matter how many times I hear them."

Sold out

Mr Koizumi's enthusiasm for Elvis dates from his childhood. He says the first English song he ever learned was "I Want You, I Love You, I Need You".

It is something he shares with his younger brother, Masaya, now senior adviser to the Tokyo fan club. In 1987, the two brothers helped finance the construction of a statue of Elvis which now stands in central Tokyo's Harajuku district.

And in 2001, just a few months after taking office, Mr Koizumi released a CD of personally selected Elvis classics.

The statue of Elvis in Harajuku that Mr Koizumi helped build
Mr Koizumi and his brother have helped to preserve Elvis' legacy

The CD included 25 of his favourite songs and featured a computer-generated cover photo of the two men together, plus comments from the prime minister about each song he had chosen.

It stormed its way up the Japanese charts, reaching number eight in its first week of sales. All 200,000 copies of the limited edition release were sold.

Sales went so well partly because of Mr Koizumi's popularity - a coffee table book of photographs of him released around the same time sold equally fast - but also because a great many Japanese people share their leader's liking for Elvis.

No karaoke bar would be complete without a selection of Elvis classics for patrons to attempt, and no office party would be over before the boss had crooned "Love Me Tender".

Japan is also the second biggest market in Asia after Australia for sales of Elvis music.

"Everybody knows who Elvis is," says Takuya Matsuyama of BMG Japan. "There are a lot of fans who are over 40, but the number of younger fans is increasing too. Lots of musicians say they like Elvis, so young people want to check him out."

The country hosts two sizeable fan clubs and a number of smaller ones. Every Sunday, a group of Elvis look-alikes gather in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park to dance along to classic hits blasting from a loud-speaker in front of anyone who cares to watch.

"Elvis sang rock, ballads, gospel - he has all kinds of styles, so he can have all kinds of fans," says Mr Matsuyama.

And of the prime minister's widely-reported love of Elvis?

"When Mr Koizumi became prime minister, he was really popular," he said. "At that time a lot of people who hadn't listened to Elvis' songs decided to give it a try."

Forging ties

So Mr Koizumi's taste in music is certainly not out of place at home. It may even have helped win him votes.

The public appreciates the fact that he loves music, said Haruo Shimada, professor of economics at Keio University and special economic adviser to Mr Koizumi.

Elvis Presley in 1969 and Mr Koizumi in 2005
Elvis and Koizumi share a birthday of 8 January
Lisa Marie Presley got married in Japan in January 2006
Koizumi once sang an Elvis song with Tom Cruise

"It is a relief for people to know that the prime minister is a fan of music, like public people," he said. "It creates a perception that he is close to the people on the street, unlike usual prime ministers who talk about tax and interest rates."

On the world stage, a very public hobby might have had a role in forging important diplomatic friendships. When he first met Mr Bush in 2001, Mr Koizumi is said to have treated his US counterpart to a selection of Elvis songs karaoke-style, at his farm in Texas.

On one occasion, at a formal dinner, he reportedly impressed Condoleezza Rice with his knowledge of US rock lyrics. And in Australia, he and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer are said to have sung along to Elvis at an official dinner.

Now the Japanese prime minister, who says he will step down in September, has been offered the chance to visit the home of his hero.

Following in the footsteps of notable visitors such as former US President Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, U2 and Ozzy Osborne, Mr Koizumi will have the chance to see rooms where Elvis lived, as well as his stage costumes and his awards.

"We are very excited and honoured to welcome Prime Minister Koizumi to Graceland and to have the opportunity to express to him in person our great appreciation for all the wonderful things he has said about Elvis Presley through the years," said Todd Morgan, of Elvis Presley Enterprises.

See the Japanese PM's album of Elvis songs

Graceland given 'landmark' status
27 Mar 06 |  Entertainment
Cruise croons with Japan's PM
28 Aug 03 |  Showbiz
Koizumi and the King
16 Aug 01 |  Asia-Pacific

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