Few would dare question the passion of Japanese fans: what other nation would craft a 10ft solid chocolate statue of David Beckham to welcome him to Tokyo? But when it comes to Japan and Elvis Presley, the King really is dead.
If history were any guide, the days surrounding the 75th anniversary of the singer’s birth should have been a non-stop celebration for Japanese Elvis fans. They used to rank among his most ardent in the world. Their numbers include no less a figure than the former Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who veered off from summit talks with George W. Bush to visit Graceland.
Stores in the swishest parts of town would do a roaring trade in Elvis memorabilia, and a magnificent bronze statue of the King was erected in central Tokyo by the many thousands of members of the Elvis Fan Club of Japan.
But, very suddenly, it has all gone sour. The annual birthday memorial concert used to draw thousands, but organisers now expect just a few hundred. The memorabilia stores have gone bankrupt, the monthly magazine has ceased publication, and the statue was felled from its Tokyo perch and spent months rotting in a garage before being moved to Kobe.
The Elvis Fan Club of Japan has been consumed in an inferno of financial dispute and recriminations. The trouble appears to have started in 2007 when Tadayuki Akazawa, the club’s chairman, died and the flame of Japanese Elvis enthusiasm began to gutter.
“After almost 30 years of activity, the Elvis Presley Fan Club of Japan is now dormant, or rather I should say it does not exist as a nationwide organisation,” said Kazuaki Suzuki, one of the group’s senior members.
“The reason we cannot get younger fans is partly because Presley is not thought of as a rock’n’roll singer by young Japanese but as a singer in a jump suit. People just think of that image as a bit comic,” he said.