"The Dekotora or Decotora, an abbreviation for "Decoration Truck", is a kind of loudly decorated truck most commonly found in Japan. Dekotora commonly have neon or ultraviolet lights, extravagant paints, and shiny stainless or golden exterior parts. These decorations can be found on both the cab and the trailer, and not only on the exterior but also in the interior. Dekotora may be created by workers out of their work trucks for fun, or they may be designed by hobbyists for special events. They are sometimes also referred to as Art Trucks (ātotorakku)?).
Note that Dekotora does not refer to vehicles used for advertisements, political campaigns or propaganda.
In 1975, Toei released a movie Trucker (Torakku Yarō?) that featured as the protagonist a costumed trucker who drove his garishly decorated truck all over Japan. This movie was a big hit with both old and young, and caused a wave of Dekotora popularity to sweep the country. While Dekotoras were present throughout the 1970s, before the movie they were restricted to the north-eastern fishing transport trucks. It is possible that the movie was an attempt to popularise these kinds of trucks. In those days, ready-made parts for trucks were not easily available, so these trucks freely utilised parts from sightseeing buses or US military vehicles.
Since the late 1990s, Dekotora have been heavily influenced by the art of Gundam. In addition to the Gundam-influenced designs, it is common to see decorations that are more akin to modern art, or even retro designs that closely resemble those found in the movie Trucker.
There is a large amount of variation in the designs and equipment used in Dekotora, much of it owing to the individual tastes of the owners or groups that use the trucks.
However, because the installation of these decorations can change the length, height and weight of the truck, for Dekotora used on highways for transportation and shipping these modifications have to pass inspection and be approved, and any departures from the regulations cleared.
Dump trucks or semi-trailer trucks usually have deflectors, rain sheets, and fixtures for attaching ropes etc. stored in boxes atop the driver's seat (the cab) of the truck. In Dekotora, these are stainless steel or chrome plated. The front deck may additionally have bird-cages, cylindrical ornaments (called "rockets"), and so forth. These "rockets" are said to imitate the air-conditioning ducts commonly found on Super Buses run by the HATO Bus Company.
While the rims of the side mirrors are sometimes plated in Dekotora, it is far more common to see the arms of the side mirrors modified in showy ways. Often, to show hardness, these arms are replaced with wide bore metal tubes.
Dekotora often add sunroofs or visors (if they didn't exist already) to the cabs of the trucks.
The front bumper is one of the primary means of creating an impressive image in Dekotoras. It is common to see the front bumpers from different makes of trucks transplanted to the Dekotoras, and they are often accessorised with paper lanterns or fog lamps.
* Boat: Some Dekotora modifications make the front of the truck appear like the bow of a boat or ship when seen from above.
* Cadillac: Some Dekotora change the front bumper to resemble Cadillac cars made in the 1970s.
* Russell: The side view gives a diagonal cross-section, similar to a snow-plow.
* Reverse Russell: The side view is the reverse of a normal Russell form.
Instead of the usual pipes used for side bumpers, Dekotora use broad planks, often decorated with paper enclosed lanterns (andon?) or other kinds of illumination.
The design of the rear bumper is naturally heavily influenced by the type of truck that is being modified. In boxcars or semis, the rear stairs are fitted with load carrying trays if needed. The tail lights will have garish additions such as signs saying "reverse" instead of the usual red lights, or lights that flash in unusual patterns.
The steps behind the cab used to climb the trailers are often illuminated and decorated with paper lanterns, etc.
Glass or resin plates decorated with writing are installed on illuminated panels on the front window, starting from the bottom to the top of the front deck, the visor, and all around the bumpers. The nickname of the truck, the name of the trucking company, or a catchphrase is usually emblazoned in front of the luggage rack. At the bottom of the front window, often disregarding regulations, the car emblems of different makers such as Hino or Mitsubishi are affixed.
To show off in the night time, the frame of the luggage rack, bumpers, foils etc are illuminated. The illumination patterns are programmed using a relay computer. People who do not care about Dekotora often complain that these trucks look like Pachinko parlors.
Van-body Dekotora often have "rockets" and decorative boxes placed on the luggage racks above the cabs.
In dumptrucks and semis, the hinged panels of the body reshaped to increase the height of the truck, and the front and rear decorations are co-ordinated.
Exhaust pipes connectors called "muffler cutters" are sometimes used, and chimney mufflers as used on American trailer trucks are sometimes used.
Patrol lights are sometimes affixed to the cabs. However, as these are not emergency vehicles, they are prohibited from using red lights.
The fuel tanks are sometimes plated in aluminium and sometimes refashioned as cylinders instead of the usual box shape.
Materials used in the parts
Plated steel or aluminium is common for the decks, bumpers, visors, "rockets", and body panels. Stainless steel is also sometimes used, often with neat etchings or embossed designs of awards the Dekotora or its owner has received.
For the cabs, not only solid paints but also expensive and exquisite paints based on mica, pearl, metals (not limited to marketing paints), lame, etc. are often used.
The chassis frame is sometimes red coloured and fashioned as 19th century European gatling gun bases.
The designs used on the trailer of the truck depends very much on the tastes of the owners. The following themes are often seen, though the designs are often a combination of individual concepts. It is also possible to have no designs at all, or designs used on van-body trucks.
* Animals: dragons, tigers, hawks, fish, dinosaurs, hounds, cats, etc. Dragons are extremely popular. Fairy tale cats, penguins, etc. are also becoming increasingly popular.
* Plants: sakura, chrysanthemum and peony trees are common. Etchings claiming that "sakura is Japan's national flower" are found often. The "flower king" of the T'ang dynasty is represented with the peony trees in the Kabuki style.
* Humans: historical personalities or performers are sometimes used. It is also common to see historical themes. Formerly, scenes of the military commanders from the Sengoku period lined up with Jūnihitoe (jūnihitoe?) or courtesans (oiran?) were popular. Nowadays specific personalities are more commonly seen, though there is always the question of the rights to paint portraits of modern figures.
* Scenery: mountains, seas, and citiscapes etc. Trucks that transport seafood often depict fishes and waves. Uogashi (Uogashi?) marks are commonly seen. Christian Lassen-style pictures of the sea are sometimes seen.
* Kabuki: this genre is popular because of the preponderance of dragons that are believed to add splendour and embolden the spirit.
* Religious symbols: Buddhist symbols and omens depicting sunrise, the Seven Lucky Gods (shirafukujin?), Guan Yin (kan'on?), etc. Often these symbols carry a prayer for the prosperity of a business when used on business vehicles. Hatsuyume (Hatsuyume?) of Mount Fuji is a common symbol.
* Animation (Anime): characters from Disney, Studio Ghibli, Gundam etc. movies and TV shows.
For letterings, classical style fonts such as Edomoji, semi-cursive scripts or cursive scripts are used."
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