Japan is to crazy what the Middle East is to oil: sitting on quantities that can supply the rest of the world for decades. Of course, we say that with nothing but admiration. Their mind-blowing and often unsettling subcultures have faced the pressure of high expectations and stifling social codes, and responded by taking rebellion to new, terrifying places.
When lots of Americans picture Japan, they're picturing Tokyo--one big Blade Runner-esque city. But take the subway out of the city, past the endless suburbs and there's a Japanese heartland just as rough and tumble as the deepest parts of the South. There are even Japanese truckers.
But unlike American truckers, who spend their off hours doing meth and hiring inexpensive prostitutes, Japanese truckers spend their free time--and thousands of their yen--turning their trucks into something out of an extremely flamboyant, musical version of The Road Warrior.
Known as dekotora (a combination of the English words "decoration" and "truck") these guys add amazingly elaborate spoilers, lights, boxes and elaborate murals to their rides.
A dekotora truck can have a Cadillac bumper, illuminated chrome side-running boards, paper lanterns, luggage racks that light up like Christmas trees, detailed murals featuring dragons, samurai and cartoon characters, and even metal tubes shooting off the front that serve no purpose at all.
Amazingly, most of these trucks are actually used to transport goods. Sure, the guys may only turn on all the lights when they're showing the cars off to their buddies, but they also work in these things. It's like the FedEx guy coming to pick up your package in a neon David Lee Roth jumpsuit and a pink feather boa. Awesome, in other words.
Named for the English word "gal," gyaru are young girls who dye their hair sickly shades of silver and blonde, get fakey tans and slather the makeup on thicker than Bugs Bunny in drag. They can be found hanging out on street corners in almost every major city, but the movement was born (like almost every freaky Japanese style) in the ultra-hip Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo.
There are all sorts of subgroups of gyaru, and each successive generation gets weirder than the last.
First came the kogyaru, high school girls who wore sexualized versions of their school uniforms (supershort skirts and incredibly saggy socks) and dyed their hair blond. Once that style peaked, some girls started to go off the rails. Known as ganguro, they slathered dark makeup on their faces, painted their lips white and attached shiny stickers to their faces.
Don't look it in the eyes!
Some of the ganguro, however, weren't satisfied with looking like panda hookers and went one terrible step further. Calling themselves yamanba, which means "mountain hag" in Japanese, these girls made themselves look as ridiculous as possible, and wore makeup that would make John Wayne Gacy sleep with a nightlight.
On the Internet at least, the word "lolita" conjures up images of sweaty middle-aged dudes who hang around schoolyards and get their hard drives confiscated by the FBI. But in Japan, lolita refers to another bizarre subculture. Unlike their gyaru contemporaries, who cake on the makeup and bare as much skin as legally possible, lolita's dress up in clothes so modest, Queen Victoria would tell them to loosen up a little.
Clad in petticoats, high-collared dresses, bonnets and wielding fluffy parasols, they walk the Bladerunner streets of Tokyo looking like graduates of The Tim Burton School for Girls. There are all kinds of lolita's, each with their own variation on the theme, but they all share a love of women's fashions that died out before their grandmothers were born.
And these aren't just outfits they wear to special clubs or garden parties. You can see grown women in these full Victorian doll costumes on trains, in book stores and wolfing down cheeseburgers at McDonald's.
Why, you may ask? It has something to do with the rejection of male-created beauty standards and sexualized dress. Yes. In Japan, to express their rejection of oppressive cultural stereotypes and proclaim their independence, women dress like creepy school girls from 200 years ago. That sounds about right.