Every culture has its individual quirks that make it stand out from the rest. You’ll find these quirks in elements of that culture, be it in music, art, tradition, beliefs, products, and so much more. As technology develops and the world starts depending on modernized tools for entertainment, reference, and utilities, the more and more our culture grows to accept these newfound elements.
Japan is quite popular for having many elements in its culture that people from other cultures may find different or strange. The Japanese fascination for the quality of cuteness or “kawaii” is one of these elements, for example, that others may find interesting. Stemming from the kawaii trend are more subcultures and products that perpetuate it (such as the interest of young Japanese women in pictures of themselves, as well as stickers), therefore enhancing the culture. One of those products is the Purikura.
What is Purikura?
Essentially, purikura is a photo sticker machine that works as a booth. You put a number of coins it takes, walk in (either alone or with a friend or more), the computer assists you in taking the shot, lets you personalize it and decorate it, and then it prints out copies for you on a sticker sheet. These machine booths were initially created by a company called “Atlus” and were trademarked by them. Their name got so popular, that even though the term cannot be used by other companies that produce sticker booths, they are still referred to as purikura in general.
A Part of Culture in Japan: Purikura
It all started in 1995 when purikura machines started popping up in amusement parks and arcades in Japan, under the name “Print Club”. The woman behind the concept is Sasaki Miho, who thought it would be a good idea to create because of her own personal fondness for pasting stickers on her notebooks, back when she was still studying.
During the beginning of its appearance in digital entertainment centers, not everyone was crazy about it. Only after it got acclaim from SMAP, a famous J-Pop group did it escalate into fame. SMAP took their group shots using a purikura machine and distributed it to fans who would watch their music television skits. Their unique idea to have their group shot taken with a purikura was copied by other Japanese music artists, adding more public enticement to the reputation of entire purikura craze. By 1998, 25,000 of those machines were available scattered around the world, with Japanese kids and teenagers excited to take and collect photos of themselves any chance they get.
The Etymology of Purikura
If you translate Print Club into Romaji, Print Club becomes “purinto kurabu”. The Japanese fondly abbreviated this, coming up with the term “purikura”, taking the first two syllables to form its nickname. Taking a photo from one of these machines when visiting Japan has become an example of a classic Japanese souvenir.
Edits that you could add to your photos during the beginning of the purikura fad were frames and stamps, and their design options had much to do with whatever was popular in Japanese media and cartoons at that time. Those cartoons so happened to be those of the likes of My Melody, Hello Kitty, etcetera. Sticker photo booth companies wanted to find more fun things that customers could do with their images. Purikura has since developed to have more design options and a clearer picture in general.
Current Design Options When Using Purikura
Modern customization tools now allow you to remove blemishes, lighten skin tone, edit the size of your eyes (it’s popular in kawaii culture to make one’s eyes look bigger and seemingly more innocent), and toggle the size of your jaw and cheeks to give them a slimmer appearance. You may add a different background, text, stickers, draw on it with a pen, and add a little bit of digital makeup (eyelashes, blush, lipstick, etcetera).
Photo Sticker Booths in Japan – How to Use a Purikura
There are so many different purikura in Japan, and you can find them easily in any arcade or large mall. Here are a few steps on how to use one.
Before You Hit the Booths
First, make sure you have the outfit you want to use on. You may rent from a props rental service to get just the look you want (aka cosplay), or you can choose to just go in a casual outfit. Next, find the closest arcade, and pick which machine you’d like to use. They all have different themes and layouts; some are cute, some are more chic and elegant looking. There are also purikura that allow you to take pictures of your whole or half body instead of just portrait shots.
Choosing the Right Booth
You can take your time and look around at which machine you want, and see the examples on their previews, sometimes illustrated outside the machine. You can tell which machines are crowd favorites by the people lining up to use them. Also, remember that you can only go in groups of girls, or with a girl. Groups of men are usually not allowed to use the booths.
When it’s finally your turn, step into the booth, choose your initial design options with the given guide, compress, and take your photos. You usually have four to six different photos bunched up into one card; you can sometimes choose which size you want. Once the camera takes all the shots necessary, you may then customize it. Watch out, you usually have a time limit in making editing decisions, to consider the next person in line. Write a personal message, draw on it using the stylus given, or edit your facial or body features. You can even send the finished product to your email address or cell phone if you have a local number.
Print it, Cherish it
Once you’re done with the customization and entering your details if you want a copy sent to you, the machine will produce a physical card that you can keep and/or share with your friends. They sometimes give copies of the same photo attached to each other in digital seams, so you can cut these seams with some scissors. You can frame them, or stick them on journals to make a “purichou”, or attach them to items you see or use day to day.
What Is the Price of Using a Purikura in Japan?
Each machine is different, but you should estimate the cost of using the machine to be around 300 to 500 yen. Make sure that you have enough loose coins amounting to 100 yen to make the transaction quicker, as if you have bills, you’ll have to take the time to change them using the nearest machine. It is assumed that the more a purikura costs for you to use, the more features it has, and people it can handle.
If you want to buy the purikura machine itself, it should cost around upwards of at least $1000. Newer models are sold by their supplier at ranges above $2000, up to even $9500 for the most complex and advanced ones. It may be a lucrative business option if you think that the demographic of the place you plan to install it in hits your target market, and is likely to use it.
The Photo Booth: The Original Purikura
Though the purikura phenomenon was conceived and developed purely during the 90’s, its roots tie all the way to the classic photo booth. A normal photo booth holds a camera that automatically takes your photo after you insert the amount of currency needed. It becomes self-sufficient, thus being labeled a kiosk or a vending machine. They all used to have a film processor, but the process of capturing images has turned digital over the modernization of technology.
The earliest photo booth that ever existed was created in 1889. At that time, it wasn’t known as a photo booth yet, instead, it was called a photography machine. The people who filed its patent were citizens of Baltimore, Edward Poole, and William Pope. There would be many inventors who would follow suit in creating different versions of the automated photography machine, ending with the incredibly popular version that everyone would come to know, invented by Anatol Josepho. Josepho’s version would be the one that would use a curtain, and cost 25 cents per use. 280,000 people availed of this booth in 1925 in New York, turning Josepho into a millionaire only a couple of years later.
An Expo in Japan for Purikura
Aside from finding them in arcades, you may also find purikura in expos in around the world. For example, if you’re looking for purikura in Expos in Australia, you can be updated with information about this by following a page on Facebook that tracks down or supplies these events. One of these groups that do that is called “Kawaii Purikura”, which started a little after June 2016.
Throughout 2016, Kawaii Purikura has been constantly adding new information to their page about the purikura that have been popping up all over Australia, with the latest one on November 13, at the Supernova Pop Culture Expo. They also visit festivals such as Madman Anime Festival, and Neko Nation in Brisbane, which was a Kawaii Event. However, you don’t have to wait for an expo to try a purikura. All you need to do is pay a visit to the local arcade or amusement center to see if they have a purikura machine.
Great Places in Japan to Try Purikura
If you’ve been to all the arcades around your area and still haven’t found a purikura, then your best bet is to travel to the country that created them, and go to the mecca of all purikura; Tokyo.
In Tokyo, the number of arcades you’ll find is staggering. A popular arcade brand is Adores. They have chains all over the metropolis, particularly in Ikebukuro, Ueno, Shibuya, Akihabara, and of course, Shinjuku. They’re popular for their UFO machines (claw machines), as well as their wide range of other arcade games. Adores also lets you rent costumes before using the purikura. The store in Shibuya is open from 10 A.M. to 12:30 A.M. all throughout the week.
Another arcade with a wide range of options you can choose from of purikura machines is Club Sega. Club Sega can be found in the areas of Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Akihabara, Odaiba, and Yoyogi – but only the stores in Ikebukuro, Akihabara, and Shibuya let you rent outfits.
Frustrated over the limited amount of costumes given for rent at these arcades? Head over to Brooming Harajuku, found inside Alta Building in 1-16-4 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. It’s open from 10:30 AM to 8 PM. and rents its costumes for free. Not only do you not have to pay, you also get to pick from around 20 or so cosplay options to help customize your purikura photo, just as you like it.
Why You Should Try Using a Purikura
Aside from getting to bring home a personalized and distinctly Japanese souvenir that brings back good memories, it’s also quite affordable, and a lot of fun to participate in. It doesn’t serve any distinct purpose (like a passport photo booth would), but they make for a bonding experience for you and your friends, as you decide on themes and wacky poses, forever etched on these cards and stickers.
You can also hire a photobooth for your party (rent per hour), and if you’re lucky, a purikura itself (or a photo booth with purikura characteristics). That way, your guests will have something to remember the event itself by, and you also may get to save money on your budget for your giveaways.
Have Your Own Purikura on Your Phone
Gone are the days of having to go to a photo booth to have fun shots taken. You can now have your very own personal purikura on your phone - DIY style You can download apps like DECOPIC – KawaiiPhotoEditingApp, or Aillis (formerly LINE camera) to edit them.
However, if you have a Samsung phone, its camera app usually comes with features that allow you to edit the size of your eyes and jaw, just like the original purikura machines. You can also add makeup, stickers, and draw on it as well. The only difference is, the purikura automatically prints out physical copies. But if you have a printer that can connect to your phone, the right costume, and backdrops, you’re all set to go with your own purikura.