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In Photos: Exploring The Hidden Subculture Of Tokyo's Roller-Zoku Gangs

In 2013, Tennessee-born photographer Denny Renshaw (@dennyrenshaw) set out to explore the densely populated pacific island nation of Japan with the focus of gathering images that highlighted the varying fashion subcultures of Tokyo.

In pursuit of bringing light to the city's fashion, Renshaw stumbled across members of the region's highly elusive collective of Roller-zoku gangs, Japan's answer to rockabilly fashion.

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

Among Japan’s many fashion subcultures – lolitas, ganguros, Bōsōzokus and so on – the Roller-zoku stand to be one of the most concealed and least explored.

Characterized by insignia of the American rocker, rockabilly and greaser subcultures, the Roller-zoku come together to celebrate a love of loud rock music and its accompanying fashion.

Japanese record labels didn't differentiate between the rock n' roll and rockabilly categories when the genres were first introduced to the country's music scene decades ago.

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

Because of this, the fashion of the Roller-zoku and their musical prowess have meshed together to hold slight variations from the typically and stringently defined rocker and rockabilly style trends Americans have come to know.

Identifiable by their denim, leather, chains, tattoos and gelled up pompadours, the Roller-zoku have grown from the roots of 50s and 60s rockabilly music, one of the earliest forms of contemporary rock n' roll.

The Roller-zoku have now been connecting in regions all across Tokyo for over 30 years, most notably, gathering in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park each Sunday.

In addition to Renshaw's documentation of the culture, the group was also tapped by Peter Bjorn for his 2009 music video for his track "Nothing To Worry About." In the clip, viewers can watch as the group conjoins at Yoyogi, vibing out over choreographed dance.

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

For Renshaw, accessing the illusive Roller-zoku gangs proved to be a lesson on faith and optimism, putting in hours of leg work to track them down. He explains to Konbini:

"I traveled to Tokyo on faith that I could make something happen. I physically went to places where I guessed I would find them and introduced myself: the parks, record stores, a couple of shows and bars.

Japan experienced the popularity of these early Rock n’ Roll styles as did much of the world at that time, but it was the revival in the late 70’s that brought the fashions still associated with theRoller-zoku.

Unlike many other fashion tribes, these Greasers are often all ages, from the young to the old. An interesting aspect of this tribe is some members predilection for dancing, which can be seen being practiced in Tokyo 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 moves as well as intricate footwork, acrobatics, and theatricality."

With no official websites or coalitions to represent the subculture, Renshaw tracked down members of the Roller-zoku during 2013 and 2015, capturing them at parks, parties, bars and music venues with the help of a portable studio.

These character-heavy images now live on to capture the essence of the attitude and eccentricity of the group.

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

(Photo: Denny Renshaw)

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