Purikura: The Story Behind the Iconic Japanese Photo Booths | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan

Purikura: The Story Behind the Iconic Japanese Photo Booths

By Margherita Apr 25, 2023

Purikura are the iconic Japanese photo booths that allows you to edit your pictures with stickers, frames, graphic effects, and written text in different colors and styles. You can then print them out and share copies with friends, or upload them on social media.

The Origin of Purikura

Purikura BoothCredits: Wikimedia Commons

The word purikura is a contraction of the registered trademark Print Club (プリント 倶楽部, Purinto Kurabu) produced by the companies Atlus and Sega. 

The idea for these photo booths was born in Tokyo in 1994, when 30-year-old Sasaki Miho, an employee at Atlus, noticed that it was becoming increasingly popular among high school girls to paste stickers, add glitter and “kawaii” writing on their notebooks. She thought it would be fun to have sticker photos of her and her friends and proposed the idea to her bosses. They initially decided to reject her idea, only to later embrace it in 1995 when Atlus, in collaboration with SEGA, produced the first purikura booths. These were placed in arcades and had could make stickers out of pictures taken in the booths.

At first the technology was not very developed, so there were no crazy face-enhancing features or customization options; the main feature of purikura was to be able to take a picture and quickly print it into a sticker.

Soon afterward purikura reached fast food restaurants, karaoke and stations. However, it was not very successful at first: the fad only broke out because a print club machine was featured in the TV program “I Love SMAP” (愛ラブSMAP), by the famous J-pop band “SMAP”. After that appearance, Atlas was inundated with calls from vendors who wanted to set up purikura and from people asking where they could find them.

As the number of purikura booths grew from 10,000 to 45,000 within a year, many other companies decided to create their own version, such as Konami’s Puri Puri Campus.

According to a survey conducted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 1997, about 80 percent of students and 90 percent of female high school students had collected or traded purikura.

The Best Places to Try Purikura in Tokyo

In Tokyo, there are several “purikura shops”: entire shops dedicated to purikura and equipped with several different types of booths with different filters, stickers, effects and animations.

Shibuya has “Moreru Mignon” inside the Shibuya 109 shopping center, and “Purikura no Mecca”.

“GiGO” in Ikebukuro has the latest types of purikura booths available. 

“Purikura Land” in Harajuku, the neighborhood homeland of kawaii culture, even has free cosplay, powder and changing rooms for customers to prepare for their photo sessions.

This activity is mainly popular with girls (boys often participate with girlfriends or a mixed group of friends). The price tends to be around 400 yen, and the photos are printed on a sheet of sticky paper. The most fun part comes after taking the picture itself: the customization phase.

Purikura is a form of visual communication that has become part of the daily life of Japanese youth; it is reductive to call such a social phenomenon by the moniker of “silly photo booths”.

However, despite the original popularity of purikura, annual sales have fallen from about 30.7 billion yen in 2007 to about 22 billion yen in 2017.

Due in part to the declining birthrate and the development of smartphones, with the population of 18-year-olds decreasing by nearly 30% over the past 20 years, manufacturers are withdrawing from the purikura industry. 

Atlus, the creator of Purikura, withdrew from the arcade game business in 2009, and in October 2018, Make Software, a major manufacturer of similar products, went bankrupt. Consequently, the purikura market is now dominated by Frueh, which holds about 90% of the market share.

Say “Cheese!” And Get Your Purikura Shot

Purikura Photos

Credits: photo by Author

Would you be down to take some purikura? It’s a fun way to spend time with friends and to have custom souvenirs from your trip to Japan.

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Purikura: Becoming Kawaii With a Magic Photo Booth

Featured photo credits: Canva