Dekotora – the Art of Trucking

Japan is the land of extremes – from the elegant simplicity of its ancient tea ceremonies to its strange and outlandish street style. Many of the trends have made their way into other cultures throughout world, but one which remains firmly in Japan is truck art, or Dekotora (short for decoration truck), as it is known over there. Looking like Transformers on acid, these shiny chrome and neon- lit constructions would put Mad Max to shame.

It’s thought dekotora took hold in the seventies following a series of ten films called “Truck Guys” featuring a range of truckers and their goofy exploits as they made their way across Japan. Prior to the film, the idea of decorating trucks had been restricted to the North Easterly fishing ports making use of parts scavenged from tourist buses or American military vehicles. The film was a huge hit and the trend took off.

Nowadays, it’s easy to buy ready-made parts for trucks and there are shops offering off-the-peg solutions for everything from gear stick knobs to stickers. As well as truckers pimping the trucks they use for work, it’s also attracted a huge hobbyist following with people putting together their own dekotora at home to take to the many shows throughout Japan.

In the 90s, the success of Gundam (an anime series featuring giant robots) had a huge influence on the look of the lorries. However, there are three main dekotora styles, based on the regions they originated: Kansai, Retro, and Kanto. Retro remains true to the Truck Guys movie whilst Kansai and Kanto are influenced by pop culture, Gundam and other anime influences.

On top of the chrome, neon and ultra-violet, as well as more lights than Blackpool Illuminations, the trucks also feature amazing original artwork reflecting Japanese pop culture; be it singers, anime characters or creatures from comic books.

The lavish exteriors of the trucks are equally matched by the interior of their cabs. Some have been upholstered entirely in Louis Vuitton material, others in material that can only be described as chintz, whilst most have a central chandelier for that sophisticated ambiance together with a bank of monitors linked to exterior cameras giving the driver 360 vision.

What’s amazing is that some of these trucks, having had thousands of pounds spent on them, are still used to perform utilitarian tasks such as scrap metal and for rubbish collection. Their popularity is still growing and dekotora now put in appearances in anime, films and even video games. Last year, the toy company that produces Hot Wheels finally caught on to the trend and released a dekotora truck within its range.