Japanese Dekotora Subculture of Illuminating Trucks Gives New Meaning to Pimp My Big Rig

By Kathleen Gasperini
Photos by Tatsuki Masaru

In the United States, the after-market car market continues to grow as an important subculture within various demographics, with individualism expressed through one’s ride becoming an important way to make a personal statement. Coming from Japan, the Drifter scene has also had a great influence on car culture in America with competitions scattered now throughout the country. But the latest evolution, as documented by writer and photographer Tatsuki Masaru in his new book “Dekotora,” which means a truck decorated with illuminations, is the growing fascination of truck drivers across Japan who pimp their big rigs with massive neon lights on the outside and luxury interiors on the inside.

Part retro in that the illuminations look like an arcade game in one sense, and yet wholly modern in the way each truck is designed, these big rigs light up the highways of Japan and offer a driving piece of artwork to anyone who’s lucky enough to see the moving highway show. Some say that the Dekotora subculture started with northeastern fishing trucks after the movie “Trucker” by Toei, which featured DIY rigs came out in Japan in the ‘70’s, but it wasn’t until the last decade and even more so, the last few years, that auto parts, chrome-plated fenders, and loads of other after-market truck and car parts have become more prevalent (thanks to the growing after-market car market in North America) that has allowed more truckers to DIY their rigs more easily.

Tokyo-based PigMag did a great interview with author Masaru about the creation of his Dekotora book where he describes why he thinks some of these truckers pimp their rigs: “About two or three years into the project, I realized that the trucks rather than the drivers were being overly emphasized in the photographs. So I started going to meetings where large numbers of truckers would gather. They were all very outgoing, and I gradually felt welcomed into their community. Then, I started to discover things I respected about them - and things I didn’t like. For the first time, I felt Ireally knew the truckers. I realized that they possess a sense of masculinity that is dying out in Japan. I could also understand their feeling of wanting to decorate the tools they use for work.”

Dekotora fascination has spread into other genres, especially video gaming. Nintendo Wii for example, has a game called Zenkoku Dekotora Matsuri whereby players can not only customize and drive around in their own Dekotora (think a modified version of Gran Turismo), but also with the Wii controls, airbrush cool Japanese dragons or Fuji mountain landscapes into one’s ride.

 
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