Michael Jackson plans trip to his 'favorite place in the entire world'

After more than a year of self-imposed exile, pop icon Michael Jackson is back in the U.S. and planning a trip soon to Japan - one of his "favorite places in the entire world" - he and his spokeswoman told The Associated Press on Friday.

Jackson, widely reported to be pursuing business deals in Las Vegas, has been living abroad since his acquittal on all counts ended a high-profile trial over allegations of child molestation in June 2005.

He has forsaken his Neverland Ranch in California for his residences in Bahrain, France and a castle in Ireland.

In a conference call with the famed performer and spokeswoman Raymone K. Bain, Bain confirmed that Jackson is in the United States.

But both Jackson and Bain refused to say exactly where, or if he intends to stay there.

"I can confirm that he is in the United States," Bain said. "We don't give out information regarding our client's whereabouts because of safety, and this is just an ongoing policy."

Jackson did, however, say where he is going next: Japan, for a business meeting and a "fan appreciation event" in early March.

"I love Japan," he said. "It is one of my favorite places in the entire world."

Jackson, one of the best-selling artists of all time, said he has chosen to come back to Japan because of the strong support.

"My friends and fans in Japan have been so supportive of me and my family for many, many years," he said. "My fans in Japan helped me achieve historic milestones in the music industry."

But Jackson won't be giving his love away for free.

Broderick Morris, the promoter working on the Japan side of Jackson's trip, said they have sold 220 of 300 tickets to a March 8 "platinum VIP party" with Jackson - at 400,000 yen (US$3,300) a pop.

Guests will have dinner, get autographed photos and be able to "meet and greet" Jackson for 30 seconds to one minute, Morris said.

"These are people who have followed him around the world for 10 or 20 years," Morris said. "They are going to lose their minds when they see him up this close."

Tickets for a less-exclusive party the following day go on sale Saturday. At 15,000 yen ($125), all 2,500 are also expected to sell out, Morris said.

Jackson is not obligated to perform at either event, and promoters refused to comment on how much Jackson would be paid.

But perhaps more than a chance to make some money, Jackson sees the Japan appearances as an important step in his gradual return to the public eye.

Jackson made his first official foray back into the spotlight after his acquittal with an appearance - also in Tokyo - to accept MTV Japan's "Legend Award."

Last November, he allowed the syndicated TV show "Access Hollywood" to film him in a studio, working on music with producer will.i.am from the group Black Eyed Peas.

Jackson's last album, 2001's "Invincible," went double-platinum but didn't register any megahits.

Jackson has peppered the media lately with other sightings around the globe - he sang "We Are The World" in London, gave a brief eulogy at soul singer James Brown's funeral in Augusta, Georgia, and, most recently, has been spotted on shopping sprees in Las Vegas, prompting speculation that he may be seeking a long-term deal to perform there.

Morris confirmed that Jackson, 48, is currently in Las Vegas, but refused to comment further, the AP reports.

Comeback ambitions notwithstanding, Jackson continues to be media shy.

Since Jackson acknowledged in a televised interview that he (chastely) slept with young boys -a statement that helped fuel the molestation charges that nearly derailed his career - Bain said Jackson has given only one brief interview.

"Mr. Jackson doesn't conduct interviews," Bain said.

During the conference call, his first since the trial, Jackson instead offered a statement prepared for The Associated Press about his plans to visit Japan and allowed only one question - How are you?

"I'm fine, thank you," was his reply.

Even so, Jackson sounded comfortable and even happy to be speaking, joking that he was worried that the quality of the phone line would make him have to shout and "ruin the emotion of the piece."

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