Global competition gets a bad rap at home, but for Elvis impersonator Robert Washington, it was a chance to bring his act to a whole new hemisphere.

From May 13 to 19, Washington, who lives in Auburn, played at packed 1950s-style nightclubs in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan.

“It’s a beautiful country,” he said. “The culture, the food – I had an idea of what it would be like, but it far exceeded my expectations.”

Washington, who has been doing shows around the country for years, said he got the gig through a friend, Mori Yasumasa, whom he met at the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition in Memphis in 1992. Yasumasa won the competition that year, a testament to his talent and Elvis’ cross-cultural appeal. Yasumasa, who is Japanese, and Washington, an African-American, have kept in touch ever since.

“We’ve been trying to do this for a couple years now,” Washington said of his trip to Japan. “It finally started coming together a couple months ago.”

This wasn’t Washington’s first trip outside the country on Elvis-related business. Last July, he was invited to join 29 other Elvis impersonators in London for a BBC documentary. He was one of only four chosen from the United States. The rest were from all across the globe.

Washington, who is employed at Bath Iron Works, has been competing for prominent Elvis titles for years. Last year, he won the Lake George Elvisfest in Lake George, N.Y., where he will return as a special guest at the end of this month. A couple of years ago, he won the Memphis competition, which he describes as “the best.”

“You can only win the Memphis competition once, so I’ve been doing a lot of traveling since then, doing shows all over the country,” he said.

The 49-year-old father of two was born in St. Louis and grew up in Cape Girardeau, Mo. He became a fan of Elvis by listening to records and watching his movies as a child. In 1977, he was stationed in Brunswick with the Marines.

Washington does benefit shows for Special Olympics every October. He performed in Seattle and on a Carnival Cruise earlier this year. In addition to the Elvisfest, Washington will be in Wisconsin on June 13 and will perform at several Fourth of July shows in Maine.

“I think I was a pretty big hit,” Washington said of his performances in Japan. “They told me they definitely want me to come back. It’s a long trip, but hopefully I’ll get to go again.”


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