Julie Glassberg

2015 - Ongoing

There is often a distorted image built in people’s mind because of the unknown reality.

For that reason, I have been documenting a number of subcultures, often feared or misunderstood. I like misfits, outcasts, those who don’t follow the norms. Recently I have been following an alternative culture in Japan called Dekotora. I started this project as I was living in Japan in 2015 and went back in 2019 to continue. As soon as the borders reopen to Europeans, I plan to return to complete the project for a book.

Dekotora has a duality of attraction and repulsion: attraction, as it revolves around heavily decorated trucks full of colors and lights; repulsion, as people don’t know much about it, besides the visual aspect, and the truckers tend to have a “bad boy” reputation. Dekotora stands for “Dekoreshon Torakku” which is the Japanese version of “Decorated Truck”. This culture started in the 70’s. Initially, those trucks were painted for advertising purpose: for example, a truck selling fish from Hokkaido would have a traditional painting showing so. Today, because of the regulations forbidding such decorations and the bad image it could give, only a few small businesses, such as fish or flower delivery use those trucks for work.

I mainly spent my time with the group Utamarokai, the largest, oldest and only group to have chapters all around Japan. The president, Tajima san, owns a very famous truck: Ichiban Boshi (first star) which starred in a series of movies called “Torakku Yarō” (Truck Dude), with celebrity actor Bunta Sugawara. The ten movies made this culture quite popular. You can find Dekotora today in a music video, a video game, a coffee or tofu commercial. Although this subculture is a closed world, they regularly have public events where they proudly show their creations. A lot of them are for charity, such as relief for 2011 Earthquake victims, still in very precarious situations.

With this project, I want to reflect the esthetic, the mood and the essence of the Dekotora community. They are extremely proud and warm people, with a very traditional lifestyle. I find particularly interesting the contrast between the trucker’s world, often assimilated to a raw and hard world, and the poetry and nostalgia linked to the Dekotora scene. It’s a real journey into the sphere of dreams and ancient Japan:

A man’s journey is lonely

The path of the woman is that of the return

Either way, that’s not a path I would take

To flirt and we are at the crossroads

Ah ah

Ichiban Boshi, you look at my heart from the sky

I was born on impulse

I lived on impulse

What is behind these words

The mechanism of the heart, a trap

Ah ah

When the first star appears in the sky (Ichiban Boshi), my heart is restless

When I was a kid I could make wishes

A habit that I have lost

Today, I rather scrutinize the end

How fleeting stars are!

Ah ah

My heart cools down as soon as the first star appears

- Ichiban Boshi burus (Ichiban Boshi’s blues – song from the film series "Torakku Yaro” – Ichiban Boshi is the name of the main truck in the movie series and means “First Star”)

Moreover, this work archives a part of Japanese culture that will one day disappear. Within 4 years, I already noticed a drastic change and the community getting much smaller.

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  • Shirai san's truck illuminating an old house with its red lights. Aichi prefecture, Japan.

  • Ukai san, the official driver of Ryujin Maru, a very important truck for Utamarokai. Gifu prefecture.

  • Minamaru parked at Takahashi san's company garage. Hokkaido prefecture.

  • Little girl in the back on a dekotora, playing with a phone.

  • Motoie san on the radio in his mini dekotora. Shikoku Island.

  • Takeda san walking back to his truck in Toyohashi city. Aichi prefecture.

  • A girl standing in front of Ryujin Maru. Sendai Prefecture, in a foggy mountain area close to the city of Fukushima.

  • Yoshi, 13, on his "dekochari" (decorated bike), in front of his mother's apartment in Osaka. Yoshi wants to move to Tokyo to become a professional Sumo wrestler.

  • Shirai san's truck in the mountains of Aichi prefecture. It's an older truck and he painted the decorations of truck himself.

  • Minamida san and his sons in his Dekotora. Hokkaido prefecture.

  • Akuti kun stopped in front of a small snack bar. Osaka prefecture.

  • Haru chan in his truck. Shikoku Island.

  • Saki chan, 21 years old, drives a small dump truck dekotora for her father's company on Shikoku Island. She is the only woman I met who drives a work dekotora.

  • Mini chandelier on Haru chan's dashboard.
    The price of decorations can be very high depending on the quality. It is a long-term investment and a progressive evolution. Some will spend the equivalent of the cost of a house.

  • Driver in his dekotora. Kyushu Prefecture.

  • In Yamamoto san's truck during his work shift. Yamamoto san is on the road several days in a row to pick up and deliver wood.

  • Driver behind the wheel of main character truck, Ichiban Boshi.

  • Inside decoration of a truck cabin. The price of decorations can be very high depending on the quality. It is a long-term investment and a progressive evolution. Some will spend the equivalent of the cost of a house.

  • Tajima san, aka Kaicho (the boss), president of the club Utamarokai. He took over 30 years to decorate this dekotora. He became president of Utamarokai when he was 28 years old. He is now 72. Saitama, Japan.

  • Michinoku Maru, a work dekotora used for car transportation. Port of Akita, Japan.