Big eyes, unnaturally smooth skin, and sparkles. Sparkles everywhere. Yes, today we’re talking about the wonderful world of the Japanese photo booth. Or, in other words, purikura. As the Japanese love to smash words together, this particular combination is a marriage of print and club, voila purikura.
Now, when you think of photo booths, the first image that probably comes to mind is a little box that produces the equivalent of a mugshot that you can use for an ID or passport. They have those in Japan too, but purikura are not just photo booths. They are attractions that you can find in arcades, department stores, and sometimes in entire buildings devoted to them.
If you’ve never heard of this contraption, you may be wondering what separates it from just any old photo booth. Sit, back, relax and let us explain the ins and outs of these Japanese oddities.
How the Purikura Came to be
Using photo booths as a fashion and entertainment tool became a thing in 1995 when the first purikura machines were introduced by Sega and Atlus. Yes, the same Sega who gave us Sonic the Hedgehog and Gilius Thunderhead *cough* obscure nerd reference *cough*. And the same Atlus who have given us the mega-popular Persona series. Both Sega and Atlus have large stakes in the arcade market in Japan, which is still thriving despite the collapse of its Western counterparts, so it makes sense that they originally developed these machines for arcades.
Purikura booths have evolved quite a bit since their introduction. Nowadays, they are completely digital and have so many customization options for your photos, it will make your head explode into candy. You can probably even create that effect with the photo editors in the booths.
How to Use a Purikura Machine
Purikura are rather inexpensive. Most of the machines cost about 300 to 400 yen for one session and will usually shoot a reel of 5 or 6 photos. When you’ve chosen a machine that you like, all you need to do is drop in your yens, choose a theme and step into the booth. The majority of the display instructions are in Japanese, so you will need to do a bit of trial and error if you can’t read hiragana, but it’s pretty straightforward with a lot of icons and pictures guiding you along the way.
After you’ve set up your photo session, step into the machine and get ready. You only have a few seconds to strike your pose. You’ll usually see people practicing some poses outside beforehand. If you’re new to the process, though, sometimes the display inside the machine will give you some helpful suggestions as to what pose to strike, but for the most part you’re on your own on this one.
You can also add text, characters, icons, the possibilities are virtually endless. Finally, you can print out your photos. Most machines will give you at least a few layout options. The photos come in the form of stickers, which is another part of their appeal among young Japanese girls. You can even buy photo albums that are specifically for purikura printouts.
Recently, purikura machines have added the ability to send the photos to your phone as well, so you can share your dolled up self on social media. Just search for #purkikura on Instagram, and check out the thousands of posts. Pro tip: these can help you get ideas for a pose for your own photo shoot before hand.
How to Get in on this Hot Purikura Action
As mentioned before, purikura machines can be found in almost any arcade center, usually placed in a corner, but sometimes you can find an entire floor devoted to them and even entire shops. The Sega game centers in either Ikebukuro or Akihabara are home to several dozen machines each with entire floors devoted to purikura.
Purikura Land NOA is a shop devoted to purikura machines on Harajuku’s famous Takeshita Street. They have 25 of the latest machines. If you want to try out purikura at this place, be ready to wait in line. They don’t call it the “Purikura mecca” for nothing.
Speaking of mecca, there’s also a place called Purikura no Mecca in Shibuya and Shimokitazawa, which is also quite a hotspot for purikura devotees. You can’t really go wrong anywhere you go, but if you’re serious about purikura, try visiting these two places.
How to be a Total Cyunt in Japan
Lastly, let’s talk about some of the funky names that a few of these purikura machines can have. Sure, there are standards like TATSUMI, MAKESOFT, and iMS – just standard names.
Dope Wink. Let’s just throw that out there and let it simmer for a bit. If you want to impress your friends back home, bring back a reel of photos with that name branded on the sheet. However, we can do one better.
One of the most famous of the purikura vendors is a company that goes by the name of Cyunt. That’s just unfortunate. Unfortunate for the company, unfortunate for the thousands of Japanese girls who tag their purikura photos on Instagram with #cyunt, unfortunate for everyone involved really. But amazing for the internet.
And that’s really what counts in the end, doesn’t it? So get out there and airbrush your imperfections away with the magical help of purikura.