Vending machines that sell warm noodle concoctions with mysterious ingredients and unknown flavors…to our western eyes, Japan is unlike anything we’d recognize. But beyond Tokyo's glistening lights, oddball fetishes and weird, angular haircuts is a blue-collar subculture of an entirely different sort: Dekotora.
Also known as “Art Trucks,” Dekotora is the land of the rising sun’s homegrown trucker subculture that covers big rigs with neon and ultraviolet lights, colorful airbrushed murals and shiny stainless steel or golden exteriors. With housing interiors straight out of Brewsters Millions or a 2-star Las Vegas casino, the trucks are complete with elaborate chandeliers and velvet-lined seats.
There are plenty of truck-decorating customs in Asia (like Jeepnys in the Philippines), but these Japanese trucks are a league of their own. Drivers will often spend hundreds of thousands of yen and take years of painstaking effort to convert their trucks into art — and by art we mean vehicles that carry thousands of pounds of dried squid across the Japanese countryside. Moving town-to-town lit up like crazy non-denominational Christmas trees, they’re like Beyond Thunderdome at the disco, and they’re impossible not to love. Road rage? Road rave, more like.
The Dekotora trend took off after the mid-70s emergence of Japanese low budget B-movies about truckers. The first flick, called “Truck Guys,” featured a trucker who drove his wildly decorated semi all over Japan, getting into adventures and chasing tail.
The popularity of “Truck Guys” spawned the creation of 10 more Dekotora flicks (all written and directed by Norifumi Suzuki), capturing the hearts and minds of lonely truckers across Japan. It’s a trend that still persists to this day — Dekotora is commonly featured in Japanese video games, toys, magazines and TV shows.
On our Mission to ALL THE WRONG PLACES, we caught up with some of the Japanese truckers who started it all — the guys from Utamorokai Dekotora Club. Scroll through the gallery and gaze upon their rides that look like transformers. Heck, American truckers are known to fork over their wages to cheap drinks and mesh hats. But Japanese truckers fork over their wages to studded chrome details, neon lights and muralled sidings.
These trucks are mind-blowing indeed...
Click on a picture to launch the image gallery (19 images)
Stay tuned for Episode 2 of ALL THE WRONG PLACES: SOUTH AFRICA, live on the MINI Facebook page December 5th.