The Art of Deco

Art Avatar photo Ayla Yuile

G'Day Japan! / Art / The Art of Deco

Looking at the title of this piece you might be thinking, isn’t it ‘art deco’ or even ‘is it a typo for the art of decor?’ In fact, ‘deco’ is a shortened Japanese-English word for decoration. The word is used to describe any kind of object that has been ‘deco-ed’ as the Japanese would say.

‘Deco-ing’ first broke out into the scene before iPhones were a part of our lives. Pre-iPhones, Japan had the most advanced and visually diverse mobile phone devices in the world; they revolutionised the flip phone, the Japanese were the original ‘selfiers’ and they were the inventors of emojis.


Roughly around 2003-2004, young women in their early 20s to late 30s began ‘deco-ing’ their flip phones with rhinestones and beads to create a ‘one of a kind’ phone – known as deco-den – for themselves. This quickly caught on with women and girls of all ages, prompting ‘deco’ businesses to spring up where one could walk in with a plain phone and walk out with a sparkly, blinged out one.

The ‘deco’ shops began deco-ing other everyday objects like compact mirrors, lipstick cases, sunglass cases… Anything with a hard surface that glue would stick to, you could get it professionally deco-ed.

Of course, DIY kits and tutorials in magazine began springing up as well. At toy stores, children could ask santa for a pencil deco-kit which resulted in many kids coming to school with blinged out pencils and pencil cases.

To this day, deco-ing is a popular thing amongst the female population of Japan. There are even professional courses where people can become qualified deco-artists. So what are some of the most craziest and amazing things that the Japanese have deco-ed?

Deco Truck

Believe it or not one of the oldest forms of deco-ed objects (before the deco-den became a thing) was the deco-tora short for deco truck!

15527284672_af73cfe671_z 15504505576_0c04f28622_z© Kanon Serizawa

The deco trucks were not covered in rhinestone but with lavish lighting and decorations made with stainless steel and chrome. As you can see, deco trucks are done up in a very traditionally Japanese style, the standard design calls to mind the Japanese shrines and ancient buildings. The amount of work and care that goes into these trucks represent the passion and pride that truck drivers have for their rides.

The truck drivers often hold gatherings (much like bike enthusiasts) where they drive into a set location with their deco trucks, showing off to one another and picking up ideas, exchanging information to how to better the look of their rides.

Deco Mail

decomail_picture© Docomo

By 2005, the art of phone deco-ing reached inside of the phone itself, first through emojis that could be customised into particular styles – for example, imagine your iPhone emoji but in hand-drawn illustration style – and then secondly, though GIF animation images that could be sent with text messages.

Deco Nail

The fine artistry of Japanese nail artists are praised around the globe for their immaculate craftsmanship. Deco nail is a little bit like a pre-packaged version of Japanese nail art; deco nail are stickers that amateur nail art enthusiasts often use to create nail designs.

© Chihiro Nail

Recently western versions of the Japanese innovation for nail art has come out in the form of stick on nail polish. All over social media, you’ll find Japanese amateur nail art enthusiasts have begun incorporating these new, western items into their deco nail art as well.

Deco Den  – Post iPhone –

The original deco item, the art of deco den has evolved with the release of the smart phone such as the iPhone and Android phones. These phones, unlike flip phones provide a better, bigger surface for deco artists to deck out and with this new development came innovation in the actual decorations.

Deco-ing is no longer about making things look pretty and sparkly with rhinestones, but about creating unique crafty works on everyday objects. The deco artist of the 2010’s make their phones and tablets look like some sort of a dessert with ‘deco sweets’, or create an explosion of glitter and rainbow colours.

10204112846_d5ea3ee955_z© Danny Choo

With the development of these new kinds of decorations, toy stores and variety stores have massive sections of ‘make your own cake decoration’ kits and aisle upon aisles of small object that can be glued on to pretty much anything one can get their hands on.

photo_3© Monomi Kyoto

It is no doubt that the art of deco will keep evolving and growing in popularity. In addition to that, since Japanese culture and the quirky things that come out of it is such a popular subject amongst westerners, it is becoming increasingly easier for everyday Australians to get their hands on these kits and tools too. So, next time you pass through a shopping centre, be sure to keep an eye out for a deco kit too!