American drivers sometimes decorate their trucks with a few light bars that add visibility and color, simple decorative radiator caps like the one in Stallone’s Over the Top, or great flaming hot rod paint jobs. However, none of these decorative elements even comes close to those of Japan’s Dekotora trucks. Japan’s unique trucks are massive chrome monsters that make even the vehicles in Mad Max look puny and harmless.
The Birth of a Movement
Japan’s Dekotora movement began in the early 70s. Though the film Torakku Yarō (Truck Guys or Truck Rascals) is often credited to have inspired the movement, older enthusiasts say that Dekotora existed before the Toei movies and merely brought attention to the practice. Thousands of Japanese truckers adapted the method, turning the simple practice of decorating one’s truck into a movement. Once the movement got underway, decorations got more lavish, and truckers began adding chromed structures, neon lights, and other embellishments. It became a competition on who has the most outlandish truck and also the most beautiful. While the movement may have died down compared to its heyday; there are still hundreds of Dekotora trucks plying the streets of Japan.
Big Trucks Cost Big Bucks
While Americans will gladly spend money for a little more speed or a bit more horsepower, the Japanese Dekotora enthusiasts focus solely on aesthetics. However, the time and resources they spend on decorating their trucks can be a bit overwhelming. Dekotora truckers spend $20,000 – $100,000 purely on aesthetic modifications to their vehicles and most drivers spend on the higher end of the scale. Dekotora trucks aren’t just for show, though they do figure prominently in car shows. These trucks are roving neon light shows at night, but still ply their usual routes and perform their typical jobs in the morning. Dekotora trucks aren’t just shiny ornaments to look at; they are functional workhorses that inspire people and mirror the pride of their drivers.
Dekotora in the USA?
While you can decorate your truck to a certain degree if you own one — trucking companies prefer a more standard look to their vehicles. It’s already rare to find a semi with a customized paint job — let alone one with dazzling neon lights. These trucks are usually found in car shows, with owners rarely plying the highways to work. If you have money to “trick” your vehicle, you probably don’t need to use it to work. American truck drivers are also more practical, and spending to make a truck look more aesthetic isn’t on the top of their list. Perhaps with the onset of onboard navigation for trucks — which serves a purpose similar to a plane’s autopilot — truckers will have more time to relax on the road as their vehicles drive by themselves. Maybe then they’ll start thinking about sprucing up the interior of their truck or changing their truck’s look.
Japan’s Dekotora culture is truly fascinating. The devotion of their drivers to turn their trucks into functional pieces of art is astounding, and this level of commitment is something that may be unique to the Japanese culture.