‘Lit up like a Christmas tree’ doesn’t quite cover it. Moving pieces of art, embellished with massive neon lights and bling-tastic chrome; something between a science fiction robot and a Las Vegas arcade. “Decotora” trucks (translation: trucks decorated with illuminations), are the emblems of an unlikely subculture to emerge in the last decade out on the lonely highways of Japan.
In the summer of 1998, photographer Tatsuki Masaru started taking photos of the Japanese decorated trucks and getting to know the drivers behind the pimped-out wheels…
There are a few theories about how and when the Decotora subculture began. In the 1970s, the fishing trucks from north east Japan began painting and decorating their rigs shortly after the release of a cult movie series called Trucker. But it wasn’t until a decade or so ago until things started to get really serious with the chrome and that whole mobile casino look.
Our photographer thinks the subculture was mostly just born out of the loneliness of the truckers. “Their job is tough and lonely”, he says. One driver Masaru got to know well while photographing his truck told him, “At first, I never liked this job. But I had to love my job to live, so I started to decorate my truck.”
The Decotora subculture even encourages some healthy competition. Truckers try to out-bling each other, adding as many bells and whistles onto their rigs as possible. The trick however is to keep the rig street legal and operational. Communities organise roadside meet-ups where truckers and enthusiasts can gather, admire, show-off, borrow ideas or just enjoy the show.
“They can’t keep driving without pride,” says Masaru. “I think DECOTORA is an expression of each driver’s pride.”
So if you’re ever travelling on a highway in Japan, keep an eye out. Then again, you can’t really miss them.