Dekotora: Japanese Truck Culture

The Japanese subculture of ‘Dekotora’ – a portmanteau of the Japanese pronunciations of “decor” and “truck” – involves the elaborate decorating of a truck following a certain theme, or aesthetic. For more than 40 years, Japanese truck drivers have been piling lights, patterned fabrics, and other over-the-top adornments onto their work trucks, creating moving masterpieces covered in LEDs.

The tradition of decorated trucks, or “Dekotora,” originated from a 1970s Japanese movie series that was inspired by Smokey and the Bandit, titled “Torakku Yaro” or “Truck Rascals.” Drivers first began decorating their vehicles in the style seen in the comedy-action films in hopes of being cast in upcoming productions. Eventually the extravagant trucks became a way of life for many workers, with decoration costs sometimes running over $100,000.

The Dekotora craze has passed its zenith of the 80s and 90s and has been in decline recently, numbering in the region of 500 drivers in the country now. The Utamaro-Kai association participates in a number of charity initiatives, and has been helping raise funds for some of the areas worst hit by the recent Tsunamis, by staging events in the cities. 

Junichi Tajima, the head of the Utamaro says it is not just about raising money though, but about bringing some light and happiness into the lives of those who have been affected. When asked what Dekotora means to him he said that ‘after 40 years, Dekotora is my children, my brothers, my family’.”