Among Japan’s many fashion tribes, one of the less explored is the Roller-zoku. 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 called “regents.”
Foreigners often lump these individuals in with the group of Roller-zoku seen in Tokyo’s Yoyogi park every Sunday—but in fact, this tribe can be found all over Tokyo. The Roller-zoku grew from the roots of both 1950s & 1960s Rock n’ Roll and Rockabilly, as Japanese record labels did not differentiate between these musical categories at the time of their introduction.
These early rock n’ roll styles were popular in Japan and the rest of the world simultaneously, but by the late 1970s, a revival prompted the Roller-zoku to take on the fashions that still define them today. On the musical side, bands like the Cools and Carol were at the forefront of this return to rock and began garbing themselves in leather jackets, greased-back hair and motorcycles.
Unlike some fashion tribes, these greasers are people of all ages, young and old. A distinctive aspect of this tribe is that some of its members have a predilection for dancing, which can be seen in Tokyo’s parks on weekends. Much like early hip-hop was associated with breakdancing, Roller-zoku have their own brand of dancing—incorporating classic rock n’ roll dancing with intricate footwork, acrobatics, and theatricality.
This portrait series was created in Tokyo over five weeks in 2013 and 2015, shooting at parks, parties, bars and music venues across the city.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like these previous features: Skins and Suedes, Owen Harvey’s series on this unique subculture’s complex history; Bowie, a set of striking portraits of the late icon; and Land 250, Polaroid portraits taken by the one and only Patti Smith.