This article originally appeared on VICE Japan
“I can't think of changing to another profession. I want to ride a truck all the time,” said Yukino Takanashi, who works in a construction transportation company in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. The 24-year-old is a female truck driver handling an impressive 10-ton dump truck.
Yukino’s favorite car, the Rumored Lady, is a dekotora with unique Ishinomaki-style decoration. Made famous by the "Truck Guys" movie series, dekotora or decorated truck, is said to have originated in Aomori Prefecture, in the 1960s.
The idea of female truck drivers is not something new either.
The first “Truck Guys” movie in 1975 already had a female truck driver character. In the 1980s, a women's trucker association was founded, aimed at supporting female truckers in the male-dominated transportation industry. Eventually, they were called “Princess Truckers”, and although not many, they have established a unique position in the dekotora industry.
Yukino is one such trucker who has been attracting attention in recent years among the dekotora community, because of she how has preserved the Ishinomaki-style decor from Tohoku, the region known as a sacred place by dekotora fans. Its retro aesthetics have been enjoying resurgence in recent years.
We spoke to her about being a woman in a male-dominated industry, how she got into trucking, and of course, what it's like to drive a massive vehicle.
VICE: How long have you been driving a dump truck?
Yukino: It has been three years since I first got on a dump truck in 2017. You can’t get a large vehicle license until you are 21. So I was a dental assistant for a while after leaving college, until I got the license.
Have you always wanted to ride a truck?
Yes I did. My dad is a truck driver so I’ve been around trucks since I was little. From elementary school to high school, he came to pick me up with his dump truck and trailer. My high school was on top of a mountain, so he usually had to wait at the bottom. It was when I was in high school that I realised I really wanted to drive a truck too.
A high school girl going home in a dump truck. Did you ever feel embarrassed?
It was only my siblings and I who were picked up by a dump truck, so it may have stood out. But I didn't really care because there were lots of dump trucks elsewhere.
What is it about dump trucks that you like?
I was drawn to it not because dekotora was cool, but because I thought the truck my father made was cool. Ishinomaki-style trucks usually have three andon (boards with lighting that feature the truck name, company name, place name, etc.), one of which usually says "Ishinomaki". Recently, there are truckers who come from other prefectures for work and return with "Ishinomaki” as a memorial.
Tell us about your work. What do you usually carry on your dump truck?
Depending on the site, gravel or asphalt composite materials for paving roads are loaded to my truck and transported to the construction site. I make about four round trips a day. I wear boots and can suffer burns from the asphalt. It’s not easy work and I often handle it alone. The hours are long from 7 in the morning to 5 in the evening. Upon returning, I wash my car to end the day.
What do you do on your free time?
Sometimes I go out with my friends or go shopping. I wash my dump truck on my days off. I follow cool trucks on Instagram. I don't have a lot of hobbies. I don't listen to music at all, and I don't really follow celebrities on TV.
Did you look up to any women truck drivers?
I didn't start this job because I thought it was cool for a woman to ride a dump truck, so I don't have any in particular.
Are there a lot of female truckers in Japan?
There are many. I meet an increasing number of drivers in their 20s. Depending on what you carry, truck dumping is not too hard, even for a woman. Power is not necessary to carry earth and sand and crushed stones on site. For example, long-distance trucks that require you to load and unload luggage are difficult for women, but dump trucks can be loaded and unloaded automatically. In the truck industry, dump trucks are considered easy.
If dump trucks are “easy”, then which trucks are the most respected?
The trailer has a presence on site. It is very difficult to drive, and when backing up, the truck part that pulls the connected cargo swings 90 degrees. When it enters the construction site, everyone watches. People who are not skilled at it have to reverse into a spot several times, but those who are good at driving will enter in one shot. I think it's amazing to encounter such a scene while driving a dump truck. It’s nice to be seen and noticed by everyone.
Why do you think the number of female truckers have increased?
I started to see a lot more women after the earthquake. When I was a high school student, there was the Great East Japan Earthquake, so everyone was busy with the removal of rubble. After these earthquakes, there was a lot of work for reconstruction, as it was necessary to dismantle the damaged buildings, restore the roads, and transport the soil to rebuild the dike. After the earthquake, some women changed jobs from medium- and long-distance drivers to dump truck work, which is easier to do.
What does being a woman mean to you?
I don’t think it’s just about caring for a home. I do what I want to do. I don’t think raising a family is everything.
Do you think you will do this job forever?
I am not thinking of changing jobs. I do want to be able to ride trucks all the time, and not just dump trucks.
What are your future goals?
I am now driving a dump truck, but in the future I want to drive a trailer, as there are few female trailer drivers out there. When we put heavy machinery, such as an excavator, on a trailer and carry them to the construction site, we have to deal with every process by ourselves – not only driving a trailer, but also driving these heavy machinery and putting them into the trailer. To do that, it is necessary to have a driver’s license for heavy machinery and a towing license. I want to be a truck driver who is able to handle all this work by myself.
This article was first published on VICE Japan.