Tales Of Japan – A Short Story Of Dekotora Subculture

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My Japanese connection goes back for almost quarter century. Even though I have not lived in the country for almost 20 years, I still try to stay connected with the culture and trends of what I call my second homeland. These days maintaining contacts is easy – unlike keeping a decent level of language ability (hard work). So let me change a bit from the tales of Soviet past, to do a quick write-up on some of the less known aspects of the Japanese car culture.

It never fails to amaze me how many current fashions and trends originated in Japan. The whole anime thing, robotech sci-fi, cosplay, hentai, Hello Kitty and video-gaming of which I cannot say much really being one of the few humans left who never played one. In car culture Japan’s contribution kept with the whole “weird” theme: VIP, stance, onikyan, drifting, Bosozoku and others.

Seeing how these moving expressions of Japanese weirdo imagination penetrate the borders and conquer our car culture(s), I fear the time when (if ever) we come to see dekotora (from the shortened Japlish expression “decorative trucks”).

It is funny though, that this fashion, epitomizing “looks over practicality” way of thinking, unlike VIP et al, has some very humble and down to earth origins to it.

01 Tri-wheeler

In the mid to late 1960-s Japan was still largely very poor. But the country was working hard rebuilding itself and demand for cheap and economical transport was high. So like Europe a bit earlier, mom-n-pop shops, agro and fishing cooperatives and small businesses had to rely for their transportation needs on tri-wheeler trucklets called oto-sanrin (オート三輪).

None of them lived a life of pamper or actually much care. They worked hard to the point of being abused. The cheapest available steel, non-existent rust-proofing and generally poor quality meant that the body would start rusting even before the assembly was over.

This weakness was most acutely felt by fishermen. With the amount of water and salt the truck would be exposed to daily, even the recently acquired tri-wheeler would in no time turn into a rusty colander on wheels.

Money did not come in easy  for the fisheries and they used whatever means they had to repair their trucks to keep them on the road, working.

They’d rivet patches, replace rusty panels and add height to bed sides , use dried poo and wood sticks, as they say in Russia, to fashion replacement paneling, bumpers and fenders. Everything would be used – parts off old buses, industrial machinery, or even scrapped  American military equipment.

Engine turning

Not surprisingly, at some point modest embellishments started to appear. With better availability of rolled steel, other materials, machines and tools in general, engine turning of panels became wide-spread fashion. Textures proliferated endlessly along with the beautification zeal of truck owners to have all available surfaces covered with some sort of pattern, painted picture, or carry a light fixture of some sort.

02 Trukku yaro

Then 1975 sees the release of the first movie in the comedy series called Torakku Yarō (トラック野郎, literally Dumbhead Trucker) about adventures and endless dating mishaps of a trucker Momojiro Hoshi and his buddy, Kindzo Matsushita.
In the movie they drive two richly ornamented Mitsubishi Fuso trucks: Momojiro pilots the 1967 T951 3-tonner, and Kindzo — a lighter 1970 Т650.

03 Trukku yaro

The series had an instant success and hugely boosted the truck decoration fashion – some even attribute the whole dekotora movement to this movie’s popularity, which is not entirely correct, as we see. And like all fashions it gradually died.

04 robot

The second appearance happened in the 1990s. The new style was now heavily based on the appearance of Gundam robots .

05 dekotora

Edges, polished surfaces, spikes, protruding rear view mirrors and whatever you can imagine. Personally, I always thought that to come up with something like this your world view should be seriously… altered, but apparently the creators of these things managed without such undue… influence.

06 dekotora night

And each dekotora should of course carry hundreds of lights.

07 Russel snow

An interesting and noticeable feature of the modern decotora is the huge protruding bumper that the modders call Rasseru modoshi (ラッセル戻し) because of its similarity with a Russell Snowplow that were once pretty common in Japan.

Most surprising aspect of dekotora is that most of these contraptions managed to retain their practicality and continued to be used as intended – to carry cargo.

Here are a couple of videos giving you a good view of how the decotora looks on the road at daytime.

And parked during a dekotora gathering at night.


These days, the fashion sees demise for the second time, not in the least helped by crackdown from the Japanese police on all deviations from the standard.
The dekotora are again an increasingly rare sight.

If you want to browse through more weird dekotora pictures, follow the link in google.