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Rockabilly in Japan

Showa 33: the year Japan got all shook up

This relatively long Japan Times article about the “Rockabilly” era in Japanese music is pretty interesting. The tone is relatively affirmative, whereas PARCO’s Street Fashion 1945-1995 takes a much more cynical perspective on the whole thing. The PARCO book claims that all the girls “grabbing at” the stars and throwing underwear on stage were hostesses and other girls paid off to act crazy and be sensational. None of the “frenzy” came from normal teens.

The book also notes that Rockabilly never reached the level of a national trend, nor did the main singers’ fashion sense inspire anyone. Their preferred “Regent” haircut was big with the kids out in the sticks, but seen as outdated in Tokyo. (This is still true today.)

The PARCO author cabal goes on to claim that the entire Rockabilly “craze” was essentially a hoax, seeing that when the musicians were playing at jazz kissa, teens in the audience treated them as almost equals rather than stars in the Elvis mold. Interestingly, however, the original Rockabilly singers went on to form the backbone of the Japanese entertainment industry — namely, the company Watanabe Pro — and took with them these lessons on manufacturing consent. As the Japan Times mentioned, that particular management company perfected the creation of “idol singers” and completely controlled the songs and artists appearing on Japanese variety hours in the 1960s.

PARCO seems to suggest that there was never a “pure” era of Japanese music when production companies were not creating “booms” instead of reacting to them.

W. David MARX
February 21, 2008

9 Responses

  1. M-Bone Says:

    I think that the “Rockabilly” thing mainly became a nationwide trend because of its (partial) influence on “Taiyo no Kisetsu” – an older author picked certain parts of the whole thing, mixed in elements of a persistent delinquent culture (with pre-war roots)and sold it as a movie that went big nationwide and more or less set the tone for a youth style shift between the 1950s and 1960s.

  2. W. David MARX Says:

    You’ve got your chronology backwards. Taiyo no Kisetsu was the craze a few years before Rockabilly. The whole Taiyo-zoku thing basically peaked in ’56, but all those 50s delinquent subcultures had a lot in common: summer-centered fashion, etc.

    Also, where are you seeing the direct line for Shonan Ishihara Bros. culture in the pre-war?

  3. M-Bone Says:

    The “Taiyo no Kisetsu” look ran through Ishihara Yujiro’s others films (Arashi wo Yobu Otoko) and was taken up by the other Nikkatsu youth films (Kobayashi Akira’s Wataridori, etc. which peaked in popularity around 1960-1961 – he had a guitar, was a wannabe Elvis, etc. – really hard to say which is the chicken and which is the egg with all of this) into the 1960s and I think that this was the mechanism that spread the “summer fashion” (of which Rockabilly was a part) nationwide. I was wrong about the chronology – don’t really know how to differentiate between the earlier Mambo-zoku (I don’t see the difference between their look and outlook and the Rockabilly one), the Elvis fans when his records were released in 1956 (is this the start of Rockabilly or its peak?), etc.

    As for the pre-war links – I don’t see a fundamental difference between the delinquents who appear in the works of Nagai Kafu, the mobo slummers in Tanizaki’s “Chijin no Ai” (which plays exactly like Taiyo no Kisetsu at points), etc. and the postwar variety. They were all style sub-cultures who hung out either in the parks, the streets, or on the beaches, thought that they were the $^#%, hated on adults, were largely afraid to commit “real” crimes, etc. The clothes and hairstyles changed but I don’t see a big shift in mindset, attitude toward consumption, or street presence.

  4. W. David MARX Says:

    Seeing that the fashion market was in it infancy, fashion magazines were in their infancy, and people were generally still pretty poor, fashion trends did not change at a particularly fast pace back in the 50s. Most of the style elements stayed constant and the musical backdrop changed. Here are the dates given by PARCO:

    Mambo Style (’55)
    Calypso Style (’57)
    Taiyo-zoku (Sun Tribe) (’56-’58)
    Rockabilly Style (’58-’60)

    Films were apparently the most important means of fashion style transmission.

    . They were all style sub-cultures who hung out either in the parks, the streets, or on the beaches

    Interestingly, the main fashion setters of the post-war were all rich kids gone bad. Even the Kaminari-zoku motorcycle gangs were from wealthy families; otherwise you couldn’t afford your own motorcyle. When working-class delinquent fashion really started moving in the ’70s, they basically took all their cues from these 50s proto-youth movements and then made them much more extreme.

  5. M-Bone Says:

    Do you think that it is fair to classify the Mambo through to Rockabilly together as one style that was being classified in different ways (not necessarily by participants, much of this naming seems to be an outside thing)?

    The pre-war street fashion crowds were also monied as I understand it. No bikes to buy but the poor didn’t have access to the coffee house culture. “Real” delinquents were more like later chinpira or even like Meiji yakuza.

  6. yepcats Says:

    Le rockabilly n’a pas de frontières.
    Amicalement rock a tous :)

  7. Marco Says:

    Hi i am lead singer of a rockabilly band in Western,Australia. The Continentals. We are very interested to come to Japan to do some shows,but we dont know who to contact please take the time to look at us on http://www.myspace.com/continentalstheband
    it has been my dream to play in your country
    My name is Marco ex lead singer of Howlin moondoggies please reply

  8. Marco Says:


  9. Marco Says:

    helllo , any rockers out there in Japan or are you
    not ready for some Raw rockabilly talent from down under yea thats right , yea just like Gene Vincent said’ man , Ya heart starts boppin like a Kangaroo’
    Now for the Last time, who do I Talk to ,too get a gig in Japans hot rockabilly clubs. if they exist….

    yours straight up
    Mr Continental