The Japanese have an uncanny knack of being able to take anything from another culture, bump it up a notch or three, and bring it out the other side with a lot of fun. Pretty cool from such a classy group of people.
They have also given us a myriad of pop-culture fodder, such as giant mechanical monstrosities, blinking, shiny electronics, and Speed Racer. If you combine all those stereotypically Japanese calling cards, you get Dekotora. That’s Dekotora, as in “All Dekotora’d out:” tricked-out, spruced-up, super-modded Japanese art trucks.
Dekotora was started in 70s Japan by the Utamaro Kai, a small group of designers and enthusiasts. Their work first came to fruition as design pieces for a movie series called Truck Yaro (Rascals). From there, it has remained an underground cult-like activity similar to what would be labeled a subculture in the US. This has transcended the underground in Japan however, and has even been made into a video game for PSX.
Here is a slickly-produced video showing the lighting system on one truck.
Dekotora trucks resemble a cross between a locomotive, a fire engine, and a Christmas tree. If you’re an 80s baby, think Optimus Prime meets Lite-Brite with chrome, welded aluminum embellishment, and LED adornments. LOTS of LED adornments – so many that Dekotora trucks are only street legal with the extra lights turned off.
This video is a walk-around of a parked Dekotora truck by an English speaker, so you can hear all the various decorations described.
These are work trucks, with the most common examples being delivery trucks and moving trucks, but there has been a dump truck or two as well. Even though they are not personal vehicles, their owners put a lot of personal heart and soul into the modifications. Some of the more intricate designs take up to 20 years to complete and cost over $135,000 USD – and that’s AFTER the purchase price. Why? It’s considered artistic expression, and the hobbyists are proud and dedicated to their craft. Often, Dekotora trucks are even given women’s names, ironically in similar fashion to a B-29.
A short video with a parking lot fully of them, all lit up in the night:
The American inclination would be to race these things, or to crash them in a Dekotora Demolition Derby. But since they are so expensive and made with such care, that’s just not going to happen… except for on-screen. As it began, Dekotora is still seen in the movies in Japan. One movie features a great chase scene that many say is the only Dekotora chase scene ever performed. Mostly, they’re just the equivalent of props.
Other countries have picked up some form of the fad.
- Columbia and Equador have Chiva Busses, which are artisan passenger carriers.
- Haiti has Tap Taps – Dekotora-style bus/taxis.
- Jeepneys are Filipino taxis made from US military jeeps left over from World War II, and are the most common type of public transportation in Manila.
- Pakistan has the king of them all: the Jingle Truck. Jingle Trucks are some of the most ornate self-propelled devices on the planet. Jingle trucks actually predate Dekotora, but the two practices sprang up unrelated.
There’s also something called Dekochari, or Dekotora for bicycles. Since the children couldn’t have the trucks, they started modding their bikes in mock fashion. This is done with plywood frames attached to the outside of the bikes and the chrome and lights of the Dekotora attached to the plywood.
Meg Jones works with a green moving company in NYC and enjoys writing about green moving and how culture shapes business. Serenity Movers also offers locksmithing, a handy thing for those in the middle of a move.