Dekotora, a combination of the English words “decoration” and “truck”, is a small Japanese subculture in which truckers spend an enormous amount of their free time and hard earned money painstakingly covering their rides with outlandishly flamboyant and elaborate spoilers, neon lights, boxes and murals. The trend itself started in the mid 70’s when the Japanese movie company Toei released the first of a series of films called Torakku Shōnen that followed the adventures of a costumed trucker who drove his extravagantly decorated truck across Japan. The movie was a major box office hit throughout Japan and caused a massive craze for Dekotora to sweep across the nation. Before the movie came out, though, Dekotoras had been around throughout the 1970s but they were primarily restricted to the north-eastern fishing districts of Japan.
Check out one of the sweetest youtube clips you’ll see all week below-
Currently, there is an enormous amount of variation in the types of designs and equipment used in Dekotora decorating, much of which depends on personal taste and the type of truck being used. The most common types of these Dekotora decorations used include stainless steel or chrome plated deflectors over the cab of the truck, modified mirror arms, broad side planks that are often decorated with some kind of illumination, heavily modified front, back and side bumpers, decorated steps, various electrical decorations and decals. This list barely conveys the true level of complexity that Dekotora decoration can reach. Indeed, there are three distinct styles employed by Dekotora truck drivers which include Kansai, Retro and Kanto each of which has its own subsets and regional characteristics.
Owners of these decorated Japanese trucks can spend as many as twenty years perfecting the style of their machines of which the decorations alone can cost anywhere from $135,000 and up. Many of these truckers often form hobby groups or entire Dekotora communities where members regularly organize shows to showcase their Decotora trucks and arrange contests for best decorated trucks. Prized Dekotora trucks are often showcased in many other types of events as these magnificently garish trucks can attract quite a crowd.
I found out about this subculture through an article I read on the internet regarding different Japanese subcultures around four months ago. It was such an unbelievably absurd cultural product that when we were assigned this blog about Japanese pop culture it immediately sprang back into my mind and I went back to the article to find out more about it. Having read more about it, I am in sincere awe of how Japanese truckers have brought such creativity and artistic flare to a job which in America is characterized as one of the most menial forms of labor available.
I doubt there are any analogous phenomena of Dekotora in America (except maybe for a few customized vehicles here and there). The only things that I can think of that even comes close to it are the heavily decorated buses in Pakistan and Indonesia which are known for the colorful riot of paints and other gaudy decorations that adorn their bodies. I suppose Americans don’t have many overly decorated vehicles because we tend to focus on the more utilitarian nature of the automobile and getting from point A to point B. Moreover, the transportation of goods is generally regarded as a major part of industry and unless a truck has an advertisement plastered on its side I don’t think any business would encourage the driver to spend time trying to attract other peoples’ attention.
It would seem rather surprising to see such a gaudy and public form of individual expression emerge from Japan. Given the relatively reserved and collectivist nature of Japan’s culture as addressed in the “Better game characters by design” reading, it seems like Dekotora goes directly against these principles by forcefully advertising one’s own individuality as loudly and brightly as possible. However, I believe that Dekotora, anime, giant Gundam statues and all of the other elements of Japanese pop culture are an indirect result of this cultural reservation. By modulating personal communication in order to control and repress excessive shows of emotion during public interactions, it seems that this overabundance of emotion is largely transferred to other places within Japanese culture such as animation, electronics, television, food and even trucks.