America is known as much for its promise of personal liberty as much as it is for its excesses. This is not a coincidence, and doing everything "big" is a tenet of American culture. But Japan, with its smaller but more dedicated populace, quietly out-bigs America in some surprising ways.
There's nothing more American than truckers plying the open road, loading their pockets full of methamphetamenes before mounting their chromed beasts of burden for a trek across the land. Truly, truckers are the cowboys of our day. Yet Japan, a country smaller than California, is even more truck-struck, with a culture devoted to pimping out one's vehicle in an outlandish competition to create the ostentatiously ornamented trucks.
It's known as the art of dekotora (decorated truck), and lest you think the Japanese pointlessly extravagant, they're doing it for a good reason: they saw it on TV. Ridiculous truck fever swept Japan in the mid-to-late 70s, thanks to a phenomenon of the silver screen known as Torakku Yar?, which roughly translates to "crazy truck bastards."
Released between 1975-79, the ten movie series follow the truck-racing, fist-fighting, hard-loving cross-country adventures of protagonist Momojiro "Ichibanboshi" Hoshi and his prodigally decorated truck.
Dekotora is so popular that you might have already seen it without realizing it, since many of the flamboyant rigs can be seen in the backgrounds of multiple Street Fighter games.
To be like "Ichi," Japanese truckers spend upwards of $100,000, or about the cost of the trucks themselves, striving to outdo one another. They affix their mechanical steeds with lights, lasers, hints of precious metals, and decals of giant fighting robots. And thanks to the addition tassels, Louis Vuitton prints, and chandeliers, some of them sort of look like strip clubs.
All it's missing is a curtain made entirely of gold beads. Get on that, Japan.
Life was simple in the 1950s, the golden period of Americana when cigarettes were healthy and an infectious new style known as rock 'n' roll transmogrified the western genre. With new tunes came greaser culture, with its propensity for leather apparel and superfluous hair slick.But it lives on in Japan, and every Sunday at Yoyogi Park, in Tokyo's Harajuku District, Americana-obsessed nostalgics gather to don mid-20th-century finery and rock Atomic Age dance moves. They're known as rockabillies and the men dress like Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli -- and they act like it too. Rocking outrageous pompadours, these megafans can also be seen chainsmoking and wielding combs in their back pockets. The women rock poodle skirts and slightly smaller pompadours, and most importantly, everyone looks cool as hell.
The Tokyo Rockabilly Club is several decades old, but the trend owes its existence to World War II. Japanese soldiers enjoyed the simple, country-tinged tunes that accompanied the invading force, and American music gained a foothold in Japanese popular culture.
In the late '50s rockabilly established itself as an Eastern pre-punk movement, much to the chagrin of Japanese traditionalists. Rockabilly singers inspired Japan's first musical groupies, who, maybe due to mistranslation, pelted the performers with stolen toilet paper. Authorities quashed the trend in the 60s, for fear of musical and social rebellion, but like the proverbial phoenix it rose from the ashes to bring sexy back to Japan.