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Tokyo’s Rockabilly Subculture is as Wonderfully Weird as You Might Expect

Who said Rock ‘n’ Roll was dead?

Image Credit: YouTube/5SOS

Any subculture you can think of, no matter how bizarre or questionably specific, you can almost bet it exists in some form in Japan.

From the kawaii Harajuku street fashion to people dressed up in fur costumes or maid outfits (and if you’re extra lucky, a cross between the two!) subcultures exist in the hundreds in Tokyo alone. 

On a trip to Japan in 2019 I was blown away by the individuality and personal flair expressed through fashion on the streets of Tokyo, but funny enough, it wasn’t until a quarantine induced binge-watch of music videos that I discovered, arguably, the slickest of them all. I’m talking about the Rockabilly subculture. 

Yes, it’s really a thing! Unfortunately a subculture in decline, it was given new coverage when the band 5 Seconds of Summer decided to use two of the most influential faces of the lifestyle, Daigo “Johnny” Yamashita and Misaki Aono, as the protagonists of their video for the hit “Youngblood”.

Image Credit: YouTube/5SOS

The video follows the two living the Rock ‘n’ Roll life in Tokyo – getting inked, being confrontational and performing for spectators in Yoyogi Park. 

Essentially, it showcases a subculture that challenges the traditional beliefs and livelihood of Japan; a subculture that embraces wildness and unpredictability in a culture built on restraint and social harmony. 

Image Credit: YouTube/5SOS

So, where did this subculture come from? Well, the greased ducktail do’ and leather jacket fad existed in the 50s and 60s, but had a major revival in the 80s and 90s. The current, most prevalent face of this subculture, and the powerhouse performer keeping it alive today is a man called Daigo “Johnny” Yamashita, also known as Johnny Pandora, or Johnny Jeana. 

Influenced by the electric hip-thrust dancing and style of Elvis, and the music of Chuck Berry, Yamashita began his journey into the world of hair gel and leather in 2005 at 16 years old. However, for Yamashita, it’s not the fashion he wants people to pay attention to and know him for, but of course, it’s the music and influence this genre has had on him, and wider society as a whole. It’s not to be viewed as another facet of Harajuku fashion, but as a lifestyle centered around music, and Rock ‘n’ Roll attitude. 

In a documentary by James Partridge, Yamashita expressed a feeling of responsibility towards keeping the Rockabilly spirit alive in Japan.

In Japan the supporters of Rockabilly culture are getting older, so I feel like I have a responsibility to keep the tradition alive. 

He has arguably made good on this quest, wowing the crowds in Yoyogi Park Tokyo, and Yamashita Park Yokohama with his performances – and not to mention private shows throughout Japan, Canada, Taiwan, and more. Go Johnny go!

Read More: Watch Japan’s Trash Collecting Samurai Battle Littering on Streets of Tokyo

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