Sabre Cats: The coolest gang in town

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.

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