TUPELO – Keishin Hayashi and six of his Japanese colleagues made Tupelo their first stop Saturday on a tour of Mississippi music sites and Elvis-related locales.
The group was here as part of a familiarization tour in advance of what would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday on Jan. 8.
Hayashi, a radio journalist in Japan and an Elvis fan since childhood, was at the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum for the third time.
“We grew up with Elvis in Japan,” said Hayashi. “Half of my personality is American because of Elvis. Me being here is a big deal for my listeners because this is where it started. This is where the roots to Elvis music comes from.”
Like Hayashi, Hitoshi Deki is too an avid fan of the King. Deki, assistant managing editor for the Japanese magazine 50 Plus, said Elvis’ influence started for Japanese men in the 1950s when times were economically hard.
But now those same men are getting ready to retire, which means they have more time to revisit parts of their youth, and one of those parts is Elvis.
“If you are a fan of music, no matter what kind of music, Mississippi is where the roots of music are,” said Deki. “Whether it’s Elvis or B.B. King, it all started here. So to an adult in his 50s or older, this place is our Disneyland.”
The journalists also visited Tupelo Hardware, where Elvis bought his first guitar, and Lawhon Elementary, where he went to school.
Linda Elliff, director of sales for the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, said visits by foreign journalists opens up the opportunity to boost tourism in the future.
“We had 35 European journalists to come here a while back and they had a combined audience of 42 million people,” said Elliff. “That’s a lot of people who are reading about Tupelo and the things we have to offer and that causes people to want to come and see themselves. These seven reporters from Japan will do the same thing. They’ll write or broadcast for their audiences at home and interest about Tupelo will grow.”
The group also will visit Clarksdale, Indianola and Tunica, showcasing the state’s rich musical history and the sounds that are often credited for influencing many of today’s musical genres.
The group later will go to Memphis to visit other sites related to Elvis’ life and musical career.
Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal