It was supposed to be just a weekend getaway to IKEA Tsuruhama, but peering through the glass panel, a peculiar sight caught my eye - a number of trucks were parked at the empty lot across the street that was usually used for baseball practice. The trucks were shiny metallic and seemed to have bling on their exterior! This was unlike anything I had seen before and certainly warranted an investigation.
It was more than a regular truckers' outdoor BBQ - it seemed to be a interest group gathering where truck hobbyists could exchange ideas about their craft as they continue to modify and decorate their trucks. There was hardly any crowd though, as I walked around the trucks taking pictures. It was only after more than 5 minutes looking up Google that I finally learnt of the specific term of such trucks - デコトラ Dekotora, an abbreviation of decoration truck.
Dekotora first started appearing in Japan in the 1960s and became increasingly a phenomenon in the 1970s when Toei released a movie series entitled トラック野郎 Trucker Yaro, in which the protagonist, a truck driver played by Bunta Sugawara, travel around Japan with his sidekick driving their deco trucks. In every movie, he will fall in love with a woman, but ultimately has to put his daredevil driving skills to the test in order to help the woman meet her true love. This series was very popular and in all 10 movies were released from 1975 to 1979.
It was an interesting mix of designs, some of which were modern art, while some sported retro designs. There were also others that drew influence from anime and Disney characters. While dekotora used to be only fishing transport trucks hailing from rural parts of northeastern Japan, the neon lights, extravagant paints, and shiny exterior certainly did not feel out of place in Osaka. Back then, such trucks were less of a culture symbol, but more as a mark of pride of the drivers in their hometowns, as they travel on regular routes to Tokyo and other urban areas.
Other than decorating every bit of the exterior, no effort is spared in decorating the interior too.
Nowadays, dekotora are rarely sighted on the streets, which can be attributed to reasons such as economic downturn and stricter compliance to traffic regulations. There are still many enthusiasts who continue to pursue their interest and continue the tradition of dekotora.
While interest from local Japanese may have waned from its heyday in the 1970s, there are an increasing number of foreigners who have taken an interest to dekotora. A dekotora was even featured in a Gucci commerical in 2016.
If you are interested in catching dekotora event, try looking up デコトラ on the Internet. Such gatherings seemed to be organized on an ad hoc basis and nothing of the scale of a typical festival, so they are unlikely to be featured in any calendar listings of tourist information websites. To see how a dekotora event looks like, there are plenty of videos on Youtube such as this one, while here's another one with English subtitles featuring interviews with a truck owner and a painter.