You know the final scene in the movie Lost in Translation, featuring Bill
Murray and Scarlett Johansson, when he whispers inaudible sweet
nothings in her shell-like? Well if my experience of Tokyo is anything to
go by, he probably says something along the lines of… “It’s a right mad
place but I wouldn’t have it any other way love.”
Let me explain.
Never one to name drop unless it’s imperative to the narrative… I
received a personal invite to visit Japan from fashion designer and style
icon Michiko Koshino, to model and star in her iconic “Golf King” runway
show (think ‘old school’ golf wear with a twist) back in the 90s, as a
thank you for having designed the logo for the collection.
Of course I said “hai” which if you know me… is par for the course.
I landed in Tokyo, where I was staying at the resplendent Reppongi
Hotel, located in the Minato district of the capital City. Not that I could
really enjoy my surroundings initially, as my mate and resident ‘wind-up’
merchant Johnny Rocca would order chicken curry & chips from room-
service to be delivered with a loud knock on the door, 4am every single
morning ...Which feels like a circle of Hell when jet-lagged up to your
eyeballs, as I was.
Regardless, being the total professional I was (am?), the Golf King show
was fantastic. The runway was located in the midst of a purpose-built
astroturf mini indoor golf course, with bunkers and a little club house
serving G&Ts. I was duly crowned Golf King at the end of the show and
anointed with a crown & gold golf bag. Move over Nick Faldo!
What happened next was something that left me a much-changed man,
with a realisation that when visiting Japan, it’s best to expect the
After the Golf King show, we were whisked away to a large local
municipal park in the heart of Tokyo. We were led to a roped-off VIP
gazebo – with only three chairs… one with my name on it – in readiness for what I presumed would be some sort of ‘light entertainment’ to
unwind from a hectic day, amongst a crowd of slightly over 300 people.
All of a sudden, the crowd began to form a semi-circle as the first strains
of the Little Richard classic ‘tutti-frutti’ began to emanate from the
tannoy-speaker system. By now I’m totally bewildered… what the f*ck is
going on here I said to myself, as I clocked a gang of denim/leather
clad, winkle-picker, beetle crusher shod ‘Tokyo Teddy Boys’ appeared –
all 90 of them – breaking out in full bop-mode.
In the words of Little Richard… “Bop bopa-a-lu a whop bam boo”
Then on closer inspection I became aware of the astronomically
enormous and quite immovable ‘Pompadour quiffs’ sat on top of these
mad boppers’ heads – we’re talking 1-2ft high – all the while dancing a
full jitterbug with a shoulder-shrugging coolness.
Fully immersed by now in what appeared to be a scene reminiscent of a
Tarantino pastiche, I noticed there were a number of different gangs, all
with their own patch logos embroidered on the backs of their leathers.
One that particularly caught my eye, was the ‘Harajuku Sabre Cats -
Rock ‘n’ Roll Club’. Although, there were only a couple at the party these
cool cat designs really burned an impression in my mind in this
altogether bonkers experience.
Since that amazing first introduction to Roller-zoku phenomena at
Harajuku Park, I’ve learnt a lot about Japan’s idiosyncratic fashion tribes.
For over 30 years, the Roller-zoku have been borrowing vintage styles,
gathering together to listen to loud rock ‘n’ roll music, and sporting
leather, denim and big greased-up pompadours known as ‘regents’.
The particular ‘tribe’ grew from the blended roots of both 1950s &
1960s Rock ‘n’ Roll and Rockabilly, which gives it its unique flavour.
Although it was the late 1970s, when the Roller-zoku style really started
to shape up and take on the fashions and accoutrements that still define
them today, such as the leather, greased-back hair and motorcycles.
Another distinctive aspect of this tribe is that some of its members have
a predilection for dancing – I can certainly testify to that. Roller-zoku
have their own brand of dancing—incorporating classic rock n’ roll
dancing with intricate footwork, acrobatics, and theatricality.
So, here’s my Nod to this little (and probably long-gone) Japanese
rockabilly gang that had me transfixed all those years ago.
“Long live Rock ‘n’ Roll” proclaims the Japanese quote on the
design… especially on Sunday afternoons at Harajuku Park.