Dekotora is slang for “decoration truck,” a term used to describe the artistic flare truck drivers in Japan add to their vehicles. The Dekotora truck drivers who created these works declined to be interviewed, but the glow of their art work can still be seen at night while driving around Japan. Turnstyle News caught up with Yutaro Oyama, a student at Ritsumeikan University who has been studying the Dekotora to see what he thinks of this unexpected art form.
Turnstyle News: What is the history of Dekotora art work?
Yutaro Oyama: The origin of Dekotora, according to my research, is unknown. They say it was started in the Tohoku area (the northern part of main land of Japan), but there are no facts to support this. Each piece of decoration has a function. The parts, which were required only to be functional and useful at first, became visually interesting gradually and diffused among truck drivers throughout Japan. The early Dekotora art work was not as beautiful as it is now, even if it was avant-garde at the time. Truck drivers find it difficult to express their personalities with the look of their trucks, because they are functional and generally used for work only. So, with Dekotora, the truck drivers can express their personality. There’s a movie series from the 1970s called “Truck Yaro.” (Yaro means guy). It made Dekotora famous, and therefore made Dekotora into a culture. We compare it to the car boom of the U.S. movie “The Fast and The Furious” in 2001. After “Truck Yaro” debuted, Dekotora really came alive.
Turnstyle News: What does the public think of these trucks?
Yutaro Oyama: The trucks themselves are not liked by people. Dekotora is not well known, but it’s so attractive that sometimes, it’s used in TV programs or advertisements.
Turnstyle News: Do you consider this an art form?
Yutaro Oyama: Yes. This is an art. The drivers use closely fabricated parts, they paint on carriers. The paint on body and carrier of truck is important. Recently, we discovered many new characters in their self expression, but we still find traditional motifs, such as dragon and Kabuki. This comes from Japanese culture.
Turnstyle News: How do these truck drivers afford to pay for these installations?
Yutaro Oyama: In many cases, truck drivers pay for the decoration themselves. On the other hand, “non-working-trucks” exist also. These trucks do not carry goods, but they are camping cars. The drivers of these trucks usually have other jobs. It is rare, but sometimes a company can encourages decoration and then they would pay for it.
Turnstyle News: Why do you think the Dekotora is significant for Japanese culture?
Yutaro Oyama: To make the decorations, such as making a crane with narrow pipes, special technique is necessary. The Dekotora art is often inspired by ships. The truck drivers name the trucks like ships are named. For example, the truck names sometimes end in “MARU.” In Japan, ship names always end with “MARU.” Truck drivers also often say “kokai,” which means “voyage in ocean” for long distance drives. The relationship between trucks and ships was my first subject of research. The Dekotora is a very unique culture of Japan, a country surrounded by the sea.
This story could have have been completed without translation and assistance from Japanese reporter Teiichi Matsumoto (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Disclaimer: Turnstyle News received these photos from a campaign by Philips to promote male self expression in everyday environments. Here’s more information.