Tupelo invites Japanese leader to Elvis' birthplace

BY EMILY LE COZ
Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tourism leaders here have asked one of the world's biggest Elvis fans to visit the King's birthplace after a stop by Graceland next week.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi received an invitation from the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau to tour Elvis' hometown after his June 30 trip to Memphis with President George Bush.

Tupelo officials are still waiting for word on Koizumi's intentions, but if the die-hard Elvis fan comes, his visit will be a big boost for international tourism promotion here.

“What we'd like to see from this is more Japanese visitors. That's the whole purpose of it,” said CVB executive director Linda Butler Johnson, who termed Japan one of the best-represented countries in foreign visitors to the rock n' roll icon's birthplace.

Johnson originally sent an invitation to both Koizumi and Bush, but Bush's schedule won't allow a side trip, said Craig Ray, Mississippi Development Authority director of tourism. A White House spokesman was still trying to confirm that by Thursday evening.

Ray, who worked at the White House under the current president and his father George H.W. Bush, speculated that Koizumi might have more free time.

“We have a really good shot at the prime minister coming to Tupelo,” said Ray, who forwarded Butler Johnson's invitation for Koizumi to the Japanese Embassy.

The prime minister's visit would include a trip to the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum and a tour of popular Elvis sites like Tupelo Hardware, where the King purchased his first guitar, and Johnnie's Drive In, where he used to hang out.

Regardless of either man's ability to see Tupelo, the CVB prepared gift baskets for Bush and Koizumi that Butler Johnson took to Graceland on Wednesday.

Baskets include gifts like mugs, T-shirts, posters and notebooks donated by the birthplace and museum, the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association and the CVB.

Koizumi, who shares a Jan. 8 birthday with Elvis, requested the chance to see Graceland during his June 28-30 visit to the United States.

Contact Daily Journal business writer Emily Le Coz at 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com

Click video to hear audio