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What Is a Dekotora?

A Dekotora is a dazzling spectacle on wheels, originating from Japan. These trucks are lavishly decorated with neon lights, extravagant paint, and stainless steel or golden exteriors. They embody a unique subculture where artistry meets the road. Imagine witnessing a moving light show that turns heads and ignites imaginations. Ready to explore the vibrant world of these rolling masterpieces?
Jeremy Laukkonen
Jeremy Laukkonen

The term dekotora is a Japanese loanword from English that is an abbreviated form of the phrase decoration truck. It is used to describe large trucks that have been customized with elaborate artwork, non-structural attachments, colorful lighting, and other modifications. Dekotora have existed in Japan since at least the 1970s, when a number of movies popularized the previously niche vehicles throughout the country. Any type of large truck can be modified into a dekotora, including tractor units, box trucks, and flatbeds. Similarly decorated vehicles also exist in other countries, such as Haitian tap taps, the rustic buses of Columbia and Ecuador, and jeepneys in the Philippines, though these vehicles are typically used for public transport.

Japan has a long history of elaborately decorated trucks, particularly in the northern parts of the country. Some of this was due to a lack of correct replacement parts that resulted in visually unique vehicles, though custom painting and other modifications were also used. Beginning in 1975, a series of movies featuring these dekotora were released that led to an increased interest in the vehicles. Many television shows, manga, and video games have also featured decoration trucks since then, and popular designs have changed throughout the years.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Modern dekotora often bear a stylistic resemblance to designs from Japan's giant robot genre, with angular chrome or stainless steel attachments and bright neon lights. Other designs are similar to the original decoration trucks from the 1970s, and have more traditional Japanese designs and murals. Similar designs are also used to create art bikes known as dekochari and art cars called itasha.

Many decoration trucks are real working vehicles that have been modified by an owner or driver. These vehicles can transport cargo, pour cement, tow other vehicles, and perform many other jobs that trucks are commonly used for. The decorations added by the dekotora enthusiast owner or driver typically do not interfere with the operation of the vehicle. Other decoration trucks are designed specifically for special events or truck shows and are put together by hobbyists.

Though the dekotora phenomenon is unique to Japan, similarly adorned vehicles can also be found throughout the world. Most of these vehicles are used for public transportation, and the elaborate paint jobs and other decorations may help attract passengers. In Haiti, privately owned, extensively decorated passenger trucks that follow predefined routes are referred to as tap taps, which means "quick quick". Public transportation in the Philippines is often handled by heavily modified US military jeeps called jeepneys. The jingle buses of central Asia are somewhat more similar to Japanese dekotora, since they are not limited to public transportation.

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