A Subculture Spectactle: Japanese Trucker Art

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Published:  September 6, 2013
Bonnie Abbott
A Subculture Spectactle: Japanese Trucker Art

Subcultures are unpredictable things. Sprouting out of our larger, everyday culture, a once normal section of society begins to change. It just takes the right specialist ingredients and the right timing.

In the past decade, the Dectora subculture has emerged in Japan. A joyous celebration of a heretofore mundane job, Dectora is representative of a truck driver’s resilience to loneliness and an expression of pride.

Directly translated as “trucks with illuminations”, like all subcultures, Dectora is not just about style, but a very intricate set of unwritten rules and terms. There are three different styles, Kansai-styleKantō-style and Retro-style, with competition between the drivers to decorate with as much chrome and bulbs as possible (as well as plush interiors), but the challenge is to keep the rig street legal and within industry requirements for operation. They have roadside gatherings, where the rigs are shown off to other Dectora drivers, enthusiasts crowd around to admire the spectacle.

The theory for Dectora’s emergence from the lonely highways of Japan are thought to have begun in the 1970s, where fishing trucks from north east Japan began painting and decorating their rigs shortly after the release of a cult movie series called Trucker. In more contemporary times, the subculture was influenced by Gundam, and together this evolved into the chrome and lights we see now, and could evolve into something else yet.

Dectora4

A subculture this bright could not avoid the attention of the mainstream, however. There are now, of course, hobbyists who decorate for fun, but are not truckers. There are magazines and the decorated trucks are now seen in films, TV and video games. Despite this dilution, the truckers continue their dazzling activity.

Photographer Tatsuki Masaru has been taking pictures of the rigs and their drivers since 1998. “Their job is tough and lonely,” he says, and quotes one of the drivers — “At first, I never liked this job. But I had to love my job in order to live. So I started to decorate my truck.” The driver’s career was potentially a very long and very solitary one. Masaru concludes, “They can’t keep driving without pride.”

Images: Tatsuki Masaru. You can purchase Masaru’s book here

 

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