Trucking just got stranger ...
Chrome plating. Strobe light high beams. Louis Vuitton upholstery. Interior chandeliers.
The world of Dekotora trucks is a fascinating one, even among the already colorful world of Japanese car modifications. At its peak, the subculture was estimated to have over 45,000 different trucks driving about Japan. While that number has shrunk to an estimated 600 in 2020, the bold visual styles of the movement have only grown louder.
At its core, Dekotara is about celebrating extravagance and opulence in trucking. Common customizations include mounting massive rails of carnival lights along the edges of trucks, along with specialized horns, speakers, and high beam lights that form Kanji symbols. Truck interiors receive a similar treatment, often being upholstered with designer fabrics and outfitted with countless neon buttons to paint the image of a surreal aircraft cabin. It's not uncommon to see expensive chandeliers mounted inside the cabins either.
What makes Dekotora unique among other visually loud car subcultures is the emphasis on functionality. Drivers of Dekotora trucks pride themselves on being able to do strenuous trucking work in their vehicles. In fact, many Dekotora drivers use these trucks to go about their day jobs, performing tasks like hauling fish across the country or clearing debris from construction sites. Although Japanese law prohibits many of their aftermarket lights from being switched on during work hours, these drivers see such customizations are a vital part of the subculture.
Modding these trucks isn't cheap. Many of the aftermarket customizations they perform utilize parts that are out of circulation. Additionally, the specialized nature of these changes means that commercial mechanics are often unable or unwilling to attempt them. This means that many aspiring Dekotora truckers either need to do their own installations or shop around for garages. All in all, it's not uncommon for a Dekotora trucker to spend more than $100,000 customizing a single truck.
The subculture can trace its roots back to a series of 1970s Japanese action comedies called Torraku Yaro (lit. Truck Guys). These films follow Momojiro Hoshi and Kinzo Matsushita, a pair of trucking outlaws who travel around Japan getting caught up in various romantic entanglements while participating in street races. While the series has mostly faded from the public eye, it has developed a cult following and inspired many of the aesthetics present in the Dekotora movement.
Although the movement has seen diminished membership over the years, the remaining members are very active. Several modding organizations exist on a national level in Japan, with a yearly meetup in the small city of Chōshi.
Do you know of any other interesting or underground car subcultures? Let us know in the comments!