Harajuku Rockabilly

Too Fast to live, Too Young to die

Photography by Noriko Takasugi - Written by Tsukasa Tanimoto

Edited by Vikki Ross


ロックンロール全盛期の1950年代、ラジオから流れるエルビス・プレスリーの声に衝撃を受け, 1970年代からのロカビリー復活で、ブライアン・セッツアーのかっこよさに憧れた、日本のティーンエイジャーたちがいた。CAROL、Coolsなどの日本のロックンロールバンドは、不良少年たちの心をわしづかみにした。

80年代に入ると、流行の最先端をリードしてきた,東京・原宿の歩行者天国で、ローラー族と呼ばれる若者たちが踊るようになり、原宿はロックンローラーの憧れの聖地となった。当時、日曜の代々木体育館前の歩行者天国は、東京近郊からラジカセ片手にやってきて、全身黒で統一された皮ジャンファッションや50年代ロカビリーファッションでアメリカングラフティーのサントラ盤をかけて踊る若者であふれていた。アクロバティックなダンスや、足をワイルドにひねるツイストは、日本独特のロカビリースタイルだ。原宿に憧れて日本全国で踊るローラー族は、若者たちのブームだった。アメカジ、長髪、サーファースタイル、その後、彼らは刻々と変化する流行のファッションやブームに身を翻し、時代を泳いできた。そんな中、聖地・原宿でロックンロールを踊り続ける人たちがいる。10代の時にかっこいいと思ったことを、どれだけ の人間がその後30年以上も貫けるだろう。ロックンロールがなかったら、死ぬ。そんな人たちが今日も原宿で踊っている。

“At 13 years old, I was amazed when I heard Elvis’ voice on the radio. When I was 17 and asked what I wanted to do in the future, I remember writing in my school yearbook, “I want to be a rock ’n’ roller”. 30 years later, I have never doubted rock ‘n’ roll’s coolness”

During rock ‘n’ roll’s Golden Age of the 50s, Japanese teenagers were influenced by the king of rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Presley. Then in the 70s, when Rockabilly came back to life, it was Brian Setzer they admired, while Japanese rock ’n’ roll bands such as CAROL and Cools won the bad boys’ hearts.

In the 80s, young people nicknamed the “Roller Gang” started dancing in Tokyo’s pedestrian zone of Harajuku, which has long been the place to discover new trends. They’d come from Tokyo’s surrounding suburbs dressed in black leather or 50s Rockabilly clothes to gather outside Yoyogi National Gymnasium. Their radio-cassette recorders played American Graffiti’s soundtrack while their acrobatic dance moves, unique to Japan’s Rockabilly, included twisting wildly on the street. People who cannot live without rock ’n’ roll are still dancing in Harajuku today.

(Right) JES: 51 yrs old, Tokyo Rockabilly Club, TRC, 2nd Leader

1. What Rockabilly means for you and your life? It’s my oxygen to survive. Without rock ’n’ roll, I would die.

2. When and why did you start Rockabilly? At 20 years old, when I used to be a bit rebellious, I bumped into rock ’n’ rollers who were dancing on Harajuku’s footbridge (destroyed in February 2014 due to town planning) and I was drawn to how cool they were. I was looking at them to attract their attention, and eventually got to join them. Since then, I have been dancing in Harajuku for more than 30 years. At 28, when I went to greet TRC’s 1st leader, he asked me to succeed him. I accepted it. Since he is a tattoo artist, as an oath, I got “TRC” tattooed on my chest.

3. What is your Rockabilly name? My Rockabilly nickname is Jes. My rock ’n’ roll friends called me that because I apparently looked like James Fujiki. He’s the guitarist of the Cools, a group that rock ’n’ rollers and motorcycle gangs admired during Harajuku’s Golden Age. “James” means the one who represents coolness, just like our eternal star; the bad boy yet sentimental James Dean.

If a big earthquake happened and I could only save a few belongings, they would definitely be my leather jacket, leather pants and sunglasses.

(Left) KAZUYO: Levels, 2nd leader, Harajuku Rock’n rollers, the next president

1. Rock ’n’ roll is indispensable to me. Without it, I am not myself. If a big earthquake happened and I could only save a few belongings, they would definitely be my leather jacket, leather pants and sunglasses.

 2. My mother loves music from the 50s so I’ve been listening to it since I was very small. One day, a friend invited me to see the street Rockabillies. Those people dance every week with such passion even though they’re not getting paid. They are definitely the special ones – I was very impressed. Their philosophy, genuineness and devotion touched me so much that I wanted to dance with them. Jes elected me as Leader three years ago. While I hesitated as I was the only female member, I decided to take over the group because I wanted the Harajuku Rockabillies culture to last.

4. Who are you and what do you do outside of Rockabilly? I have been singing in Oldies bands since I was a student and turned professional when I was 23 years old. I still sing in a music club, I’m making a recording, and I do backing vocals for an Oldies band.

The full Harajuku Rockabilly feature is available exclusively in Issue Three of The Quarterly.


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