Portraits of Tokyo’s Fascinating Rockabilly Subculture Amongst Roller-Zoku Gangs

rockabilly subculture japan

Photographer Denny Renshaw grew up in Tennessee, one of the birthplaces of the 1950s Rockabilly movement. Therefore it was only fitting that he fly across the world to immortalize the Japanese subculture influenced by this era.

Zoku, which translates to tribe or clan, is used in Japanese to denote their many subculture phenomena. A trip to Tokyo's Yoyogi Park in the Harajuku district and you'll get a taste of the myriad subcultures the city offers. Roller-zoku, who take influence from the Rockabilly and Rock n' Roll culture of the 1950s and 1960s are what Renshaw was after when he flew blind to Tokyo.

Having no way to contact them and not knowing exactly when they'd gather, he took his chances in order to photograph these greasers. As opposed to some subcultures, Renshaw noted that the Roller-zoku are of all ages, sporting large pompadours, wearing leather jackets, and riding motorcycles.

It wasn't easy to get the portraits. Renshaw was actually halted before he could even begin by one of the heads of the clan. “I was stopped so many times trying to create these Rockers photos that it I couldn’t believe it when it happened and it came out my way,” Renshaw shares.

Renshaw began his journey in 2013, getting a set of portraits in just under an hour. His success led to subsequent trips over the next 5 years, for a complete set of black and white photos that pull out Rockabilly nostalgia, while documenting this nearly 40-year-old subculture.

Roller-zoku started in the late 1970s and is known for its dancing, which incorporates rock n' roll moves and acrobatics with a theatrical flare.

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h/t: [Spoon & Tamago]

All images via Denny Renshaw.

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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