Q: While on an expressway in Japan last week, I passed a huge truck decked out with bright lights, an elaborate painting on the side, and beads and velvet and all sorts of stuff inside. What’s up with that?

A: Look, a trucker spends a lot of time in his truck. So maybe after all that bonding between man and machine, the trucker wants to show his rig some love by adding a little bling. Or a lot of bling.

The trucks like the one you saw are called “dekotora,” a shortening of “decoration truck.” Truckers have always liked putting personal touches on their rigs, and the big chunks of metal popular on today’s dekotora are thought to stem from stainless steel plates used on trucks carrying fish and seafood trucks to prevent rust. Put those trends together, and add in a huge boost from a 1975 Japanese movie hit called “Trucker,” and you’ve got one over-the-top hobby.

Accessorizing a truck is limited only by a trucker’s imagination — and, of course, his bank account and government regulations. The centerpiece for a dekotora usually is the front deck — the part above the cab. If you see a dekotora in your rearview, this is the part that will make you think you’re being followed by a casino. It’s usually lit by neon or ultraviolet lights and is made of shiny metal. The front bumper continues the theme.

On the sides and back you’ll find more lights and more shiny metal, but here’s where the trucker may show his softer side. Some dekotora feature beautiful murals, depicting anything from fierce dragons to koi, cherry blossoms to courtesans. Mount Fuji is a common subject, but so are Disney characters, Gundam and other pop culture figures.

Wanna test-drive this trend but don’t have your own truck? No matter: Find a copy of Japan’s Bakusou Dekotora Densetsu, a video game that lets you race against Japan’s most famous dekotora and make deliveries for cash to deck out your own rig.

Got a question about goings-on in the Pacific? E-mail Stacy Chandler at

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