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Visiting the Rockabilly Gangs of Tokyo's Yoyogi Park

Where: Tokyo, Japan
August 22, 2011 at 6:03 PM | by | Comments (0)

Harajuku. What does that word conjure up in your mind? Chances are it's Gwen Stefani, or girls dressed as Gothic Lolitas, but the correct answer is an area of Tokyo, in which cosplay is smiled upon and the Rockabillies rule the roost.

Make sure your trip to Tokyo includes a wide-open Sunday, and pray the weather is nice. Walk towards the entrance to Tokyo's famous Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Jingu shrine near Harajuku Station, and you'll encounter a plaza dominated by three distinct gangs, each dressed as if they just stepped out of the film Grease. They have 1950s poodle skirt and greaser Americana nailed down to the last detail, from the brands of handkerchief they stick in their Levi's pockets to the way they comb back their hair. It's all so cool.

The Rockabilly gangs don't just stand around and hang out, either. They each have their own stereos and CDs mixed with vintage tunes for dancing—some of it choreographed and much of it polished from countless hours of studying old American films. All in all, this is a scene that goes on for hours (we stayed for nearly three, taking 100s of photos) and which you won't find anywhere else in the world.

They're here every Sunday afternoon, barring bad weather or other issues, and they're not doing it for cash tips. This is simply how they choose to spend their free time, much as others enjoy a weekend evening playing video games or BBQing in a backyard.

What's more is that the gangs welcome onlookers and photographs; it's not rare to see other locals out here practicing their photography skills, tripods and all, while the steady flow of western tourists heading to Meiji Jingu only briefly give the gangs a glance.

What they really deserve is a documentary.

[Photos: Cynthia Drescher]

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