This interview appeared in the February 2002 issue of Kansai Time Out magazine. 

 

Elvis in Japan

 

Peter Hoflich catches up with James Wen, Elvis impersonator. 

 

James Wen was born in Toronto, Canada.  His family is Chinese (from Taiwan and Manchuria), and he has lived in Japan since June 1997.  He had been a financial analyst in Toronto, Canada, and initially wanted to do something similar here, but work in that field was too hard to find and so, like many others before him, ended up teaching English. 

 

How did you get started as a performer? 

It started a long time ago with my parents and growing up in an Elvis-loving family.  I used to go to karaoke when I was in university with my friends and people would hear me sing Elvis and they say I really sounded like him so they would make requests.  Then about three years ago, I started it as a business and Ifve been doing it ever since.  I love Elvis, I got Elvis in me, so I just want to do Elvis.  I got all my jobs out of ads placed in the local papers.  The first job I got from a language school that was holding a summer event in Sannomiya at Bobbyfs Bar, which is gone now.  I had a cheap 200 dollar costume then.  Now I have better costumes, five of them ordered online and custom-made.  They cost from 400 to 800 dollars. 

 

Why Elvis?

Everyone in my family has always loved Elvis.  He revolutionized music, made it what it is today.  He was really the king.  I remember the day Elvis died.  I was still a kid, in my parentsf backyard and my mom came out crying, she said gMao Wang si le.h  Chinese people call Elvis gmao wangh (the king of the cats).  It was an awful moment.

 

Is Elvis still alive?

Some of the older people at my shows are fanatical fans.  Theyfre convinced hefs alive.  But Elvis lives on in my heart, and thatfs good enough for me 

 

How often do you perform? 

I get most of my work in the summer months, and in the winter months when there are year-end parties.  Aside from that, I work once a month or so. 

 

Whatfs your show like?

I usually do one set, sometimes two.  One set is eight songs and about thirty minutes long.  I do a lot of medleys and love songs, usually no requests.  I work from recorded big band music, from CDs that I also order.  They arenft like crappy karaoke versions, they are performing-quality, big band versions of the instrumentals behind the songs with the sound from the Seventies era when Elvis performed in Las Vegas.  I donft do his country songs and just one of his gospel songs, gAmerican Trilogy.h  I also put a bit of karate in the show, even though I actually did kung-fu as a kid. 

 

Any aspirations to remake an Elvis film? 

No way, absolutely not.  I donft want to mix the King up with his movies.  He was born to be a singer and a musician. 

 

Have you met any other Elvis impersonators?

I know one other guy, he lives in Kawasaki, a Japanese guy.  I did an Elvis event a few years ago.  I had a problem where I hadnft received a belt from a jumpsuit I had ordered.  I found his name through an Elvis fan club and he lent me his belt and helped me out.  Nice guy. 

 

What do you think of El Vez, the Mexican Elvis, or Tortelvis of Dread Zeppelin fame?

Ifve never heard of those guys. 

 

Any future plans? 

To continue teaching in my school in Akashi, continue the Elvis shows and hopefully get a chance to perform in China and Taiwan.  I want to brush up on my Mandarin so that I can talk to the people and be more accepted by them.  I also hope I can make the pilgrimage to Graceland some time soon – never been yet! 

 

Elvis Live website: http://elvislivejapan.tripod.com/ELVISLIVEJAPAN.html