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Japan's Fascinating Art Truck Scene

Photographer Tatsuki Masaru has made it his mission to document the Decotora, the souped-up cars adding sparkle to Japan's rolling highways.

by Laura Feinstein
Nov 18 2013, 6:50pm

Tenkamaru. In a Tunner, Tochigi, 2005.

At the risk of sounding culturally insensitive, these Japanese art trucks look more like something out of Godzilla than a Tesco stop. Recently at the Turin Contemporary art fair, also known as Artissima, photographer Tatsuki Masaru unveiled his decade-long work trailing the Japanese Decotora ("Decoration Truck") subculture for his ongoing series Japanese Do It Better. Transcending the (amazingly) bad taste that permeates America's monster truck rallies, the Decotora are more movable art than muscle car.

According to an interview Masaru gave to Photoeye, the Decotora are also wonderful barometers of Japan's economic climate: "There was a peak in say 1980, that was the peak time in terms of the number of decorated trucks existing in Japan. This trend got started somewhere in the '60s when Japan's economy was growing and people were starting to spend money decorating their trucks. In the beginning it was like, 'Who has the most number of lights on the truck,' that kind of competition. But then in the '90s there started to be a little bit more specialization, and one area which became popular was Gundam, which are like Japanese transformer movies, and anime type of decoration, so there are some stages to its development. Recently, because of the economic difficulties like Japan's recession, and governmental regulations, traffic laws and all that, the [truckers] can no longer do the things they used to do. So in a way, they're sort of going back to the '70s style, which is a little bit less lighting, more heavy on the paintings, a little bit more subdued decorating style so they cannot get busted by the police."

While we can't tell if we'd be thrilled or terrified if we saw one of these sparklers alone on the road late at night, take a look at the pictures below for a taste of this fascinating subculture.

A Member of Seirokai, Behind the Wheel, Ibrarki, 2005.

Midnight Emperor, Shiga, 2002.

Daichimaru II, Shizuoka 2007.

Misakimaru. At a Truck Stop, Saitama, 2005.

Denshokumaru, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 2005.

DECOTORA from Masaru Tatsuki.

In addition to his photography of the Decotora, Tatsuki also released a book with Little More in 2007 titled Decotora: Japanese Art Truck Scene 1998-2007 that you can purchase here.

via We Make Money Not Art