Riding Along With Tokyo's Modern Day Mods
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Riding Along With Tokyo's Modern Day Mods

"Gab up" and roll out with the people keeping Japan's mod culture alive.

This article originally appeared in VICE Japan.

Subcultures die hard in Japan, and mods are no exception. These modern day mods are keeping a UK subculture more than 50 years old alive thanks, in no small part, to Manabu Kuroda—the scene's "ace face" and the organizer behind Tokyo's annual Vespa rally MOD MAYDAY.

VICE Japan rode along with Kuroda (aka "Manabu K.Dove") and talked about The Jam, classic Vespa scooters, and why mod fashion never dies.

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Manabu Kuroda is the guy in the stylish suit. Photo by Keisuke Nagoshi

VICE: Tell me about the first time you encountered mod culture?
Manabu Kuroda: It was 1977. I was in junior high at the time and in `78 I had the opportunity to meet The Jam. The band was part of the early punk movement, but they were striking and very impressive. They just radiated cool. As I started to listen to The Jam, I heard about these "mods," and I got interested. I knew it had something to do with this new movie Quadrophenia. It came out in `79. I saw it and I was addicted.

In the UK at the time there was this so-called "neo-mod" revival going on?
Yeah. The original mods began in `64 and it had settled down in the late `60s. Then there was a revival in about 10 years. In the UK, there was all this history that made it a revival, but since British culture of the `60s wasn't the same as Japanese culture in the `60s, it arrived here as a brand new culture. There was a feeling in the air at the time that it was pretty impressive.

At the time the punk movement was building in the UK. Why were you attracted to the mods instead of the punks?
Before I heard of the mods, or The Beatles and T. Rex, I was interested in `60s pop. The movie American Graffiti had been released some time back and I got really into the `60s pop music that flowed through the whole film.

I am also a person who is more attracted to the formal style of the mods than punk-style beauty. At the time, the punk image was an "everything's fucked" image. But mods came in with this "let's create something" image that I was really interested in.

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What did you like about the fashion?
The suits on the first album by The Jam were as good as ever. The black and white shoes, the black ties, the pins. Young people were dressing in these fresh, different suits than the salarymen. After that, `60s fashion started to even appear in movies.

Back in the `80s, what was mod fashion like in Japan?
We wore the M51 parka over a suit with desert boots. It was pretty basic. But there were also people wearing Levi's. It was a great time to find Fred Perry shirts, but a lot of people just wore the jacket over a different brand polo shirt.

How is it different today?
Now anything flies. It's really whatever you want it to be, which I feel like is best.

Like today I am wearing Gucci moccasins.
Yeah. There is no one role model, but I like to use the fashion of Paul Weller [of The Jam] as a reference. I think he had a strong impact on modern mod fashion.

An archival photo from the 1980s.

Were there a lot of people riding Lambretta and Vespa scooters at the time?
There were so few scooters at the time. I bought a state-of-the-art Vespa in `81 and there was only one other person riding at the time. We were like the only two people in the world.

So when did these scooter runs start?
It was in 1983, or maybe 1984? I did MODS MAYDAY in Shinjuku at Ruido and there were about five or six scooters there. We lined the scooters up in front of the venue and every got really excited. So after the end of MOD MAYDAY we went on a run. But at that time it wasn't an annual event. It was just a scooter run, a get-together. When we moved to Club Citta, that's when it turned into what you see today.

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There was also an event in Kawasaki [the city] and everyone would go to the venue on their scooters. This was around 1990.

How has the mod scene changed in Japan over the years?
By the time the mods came to Japan it was already about 30 years old. The mod revival itself was already an old, old story. On the other hand, here in Tokyo the mod scene and mod culture are firmly rooted. Of course there is a London scene, but I feel like the scene here began to evolve into one that suits the indigenous Japanese.

The scene here peaked in the '90s, the number of people who gather for these events has been steadily shrinking. It makes me wonder what music is now speaking with power to the young people?

This scene has roots in the culture of the UK's working class. But here in Japan, we don't have such stark class divisions or cultures built around the working class. How does the spirit of Japanese mod culture differ from its roots?
In Japan, mod culture really began in the `80s. In the UK, it had to do with discrimination, with issues in Northern Ireland, and, like, political issues. But of course, in Tokyo, we were interested in the problems in the UK. We knew that maybe there was also stuff we wouldn't understand.

In Japan, our generation, was facing issues and the youth were always involved. They were involved in the political thing and also involved in mods. It wasn't just a relic of the student movements. It was a very important thing in the `80s. How could I not be interested?

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From puberty to adulthood, I was interested in fashion and culture, but I was also looking at the political issues I felt were important at the same time. Japan is Japan. Tokyo is Tokyo. I might not have grown up working class, but I think it is important to embrace a certain awareness of the issues that define the "something" of each generation. It's still an important part of mod culture.