Purikura: Becoming Kawaii With a Magic Photo Booth | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan

Purikura: Becoming Kawaii With a Magic Photo Booth

By Celia Li Feb 17, 2020

Have you ever been to arcades in Japan? If yes, did you see the massive box-shaped photo booths with loud sounds, covered with banners with girls’ faces printed on them? These boxes are called “Purikura” – they are photo booths which print photo stickers. You think they are like those automated vending machine photo booths, where you print passport sized photo with plain backgrounds? No! Purikura has fully utilised Japan’s hi-tech hardware and combined it with the Kawaii culture. Here is the complete guide of Purikura, from its background to how you could use it as professionally as a local Japanese girl!


What is Purikura? History of Purikura

The earliest version of Purikura made its debut in July 1995 from a Japanese video game producer company called Altus. The name of that machine was “Print Club,” which the name “Purikura” is derived from. It was installed in game centres around Japan, but it did not really become a trend until a year after when SMAP, a famous Japanese male idol group, gave out Purikura taken by their members as gifts during their TV show. Purikura went viral after that, its peak in profits being in 1997 with 50,000 machines across the country. It was the biggest trend among most young girls in Japan, where they would take as many Purikura as possible, put it in their chunky Purikura albums, and “compare” them with each other (a concept such as likes on Instagram?).

Though starting from 1998, the trend began to die, and the number of Purikura machines sold decreased by about 3,500. In order to boost sales, producing companies of Purikura had to improve the quality of the Purikura by including more advanced technology such as face recognition and photo processing. Then by 2002, several arcades began to introduce costume rental services for Purikura which started the trend again. Back in that period of time, Purikura that “beautified” faces the most were the most popular, where eyes would be enlarged to unusual sizes, skin was brushed over, and face shapes were slimmed.

What really hit Purikura hard in the market was in 2007, when iPhone made its appearance in the world. Many photo-taking stores became obsolete as smartphones allowed everyone the ability to take photos anytime and anywhere they wanted. Free applications with beauty filters and frames became the more convenient option for young girls, as they could take as many photos as they wanted, and having electrical copies are easier to share with friends. In the same year, the company that produced “Print Club” went bankrupt and left the Purikura market. Many more Purikura producer companies faced the same problem, and now there is just one left in the market, called Furyu. To improve the use of Purikura, they enabled a function to download electric copies of the Purikura on the users’ phone so it could be easily shared across social medias. The Purikura machines nowadays also have high quality lighting and cameras with wide angles and solutions, making the photos taken as professional-looking as possible. However, these installments also make the machines more difficult to set up in stores as they are getting bigger and bigger in size. Now there are less than 10,000 Purikura machines left across Japan.

The style of Purikura has also changed over time along with the trends. Back in the 90s, Gyaru with tanned skin and heavy makeup were trendy, so Purikura machines had filters to darken skin tones. Now the machines whiten the skin and apply what seems is natural makeup (though the photos are still processed somehow unnaturally).


How do I take Purikura?

As most Purikura machines are Japanese only, it can be very confusing for a foreigner with no Japanese knowledge. Here is a detailed instruction so you can have the best Purikura experience:

1) Choose a Purikura machine

In most cases, you would find multiple Purikura machines available on a single floor. The types of Purikura vary between its effects, backgrounds, frames, and themes. They often label themes with keywords like cool, stylish, kawaii, sexy, etc. The most popular Purikura now is called #アオハル, which even won the top trending hashtag in the first half of 2019. Its selling point is that the camera is adjustable to different heights and angles, and the machine can fit up to 15 people, making it suitable for large groups as well. There are usually sample photos outside the machine, so you can have an idea of how the outcome of your photo will be. However, they are all pretty similar in the way of how you are going to be “edited”.

Once you have picked your desired Purikura, you may check if it is empty or not. If not, queue up outside of the booth and wait until it is your turn. You pay outside of the machine before you enter, and often after that you got to pick the style, makeup, number of people, and poses you want on the screen above. You may proceed to doing that while you are queuing up to save time too.


2) Photo taking time!

You will be instructed to enter the photo booth and you will have a few moments to leave your belongings on the side. The machine will teach you how and how to pose for each shot, and you can simply follow the pictograms and photos shown on the screen, or do your own fun poses! Photos can be taken from all positions according to the pose, for example you would have to move to the back of the machine for a full body shot. One reminder of Purikura is that the time goes QUICK. The time between each shot is short and the timer on the screen will remind you. Most of the time, you and your friends may be confused on how to pose and it can be slightly stressful when you don’t know what is happening, but usually it is great for a laugh (also for the funny edits). Remember to take your personal belongings away with you when you leave the machine!


3) Decorating in the sub-booth

This part is called 落書き(Rakugaki), which means drawing or scribbling in Japanese. For a Japanese high school girl, this is probably the part which requires the most skills and shows your “professionalism” in Purikura.

You will be directed to the sub-booth, usually located on both sides of the machine. It is a small space which usually only fits 2 people at once. It is a standing space, with a big screen in the middle shared between the two of you, and 2 stylus pens on the side.

You can decorate your Purikura by drawing, adding frames, backgrounds, stickers, and even put makeup on your face. However, as most Purikura are only in Japanese, you may find it confusing with all the tabs. Here are the common options that would show up in a Purikura:

1 – イベントEvent/スペシャルSpecial

In this tab, you can find seasonal or limited time stickers. For example, it could be festival themed such as Christmas or Halloween.

2 – ペンPen

This is the most used function by most Japanese girls. This allows you to draw lines in different colours, thicknesses, styles and brush shapes. Usually used to write letters or draw shapes, but get creative for a fun design!

3 – オススメRecommend

Similar to special, but this could be functions or edits which is unique to this specific Purikura machine.

4 – スタンプStamp

Stickers which you can change the size and orientation of to add into your Purikura. They can be cute animal characters, animal ears, glasses, hearts… explore with your options!

5 – メッセージMessage

These come in the same style as stamp, but it is a pre-set sticker with words. It could be a catchy phrase, date, or word. Some phrases may be season or event specific!

6 – メイクMakeup

Basically, doing makeup over the face – lipsticks, eyeshadows, eye colour, eyeline, blush, and even hair dye.

7 – はじめからFrom the beginning

Be careful not to press that by accident because it would erase everything you have drawn on that Purikura.

8 – 戻る/もどるUndo

9 – 進む/すすむRedo

However, be aware that there is a time limit of about 2-3 minutes. The time allowed may increase if no one is queuing up for the Purikura booth, and you may continue drawing.

After all the editing, you will be able to choose the print layout and how the Purikura will be cut. If you have a lot of people taking the photo together, you might want to choose one with a lot of small pictures in one layout.

Most of the Purikura have a function which you may download the Purikura you took on your phone, as most of them are produced by the company Furyu. They have developed the app ピクトリンク(Pictlink). You have to enter your email address at the end of the decoration, then an email with a link would be sent to you. Click the link and create an account. The most basic membership allows one free image of the Purikura, but you could pay to download more.


4) Printing

After you finish decorating, you can wait outside of the machine where the printing slot is. It is usually located at the bottom of the machine with a few lights blinking to show the progress. When it is done, the print will slide out. In most cases, you will have to cut the Purikura to share between friends, and you may find tables around the arcade equipped with scissors for cutting. Many new Purikura are printed onto transparent plastic film as that is quite trendy now, but the traditional style would be a sticker.


So where can I take Purikura?

You can find Purikura in most game centres and arcades. However, you may find special ones at tourist attractions with specific themes. There are even Purikura-only stores! In Tokyo you would find them in city-centre areas like Harajuku and Shibuya.

Some game centres like SEGA offer costume rental services where you may pick special outfits for your Purikura. The price of costumes range from 300 to 1000 yen depending on your choice, and usually the trendier or seasonal ones are more expensive. Be aware of the time limits you have for the rental, and damaging of the costumes may cost extra fees. Most stores that offer rental would have common costumes like maid, students, Alice in Wonderland and etc.

Check for any gender restriction notice around the stores, because some stores only allow females on the Purikura floor to prevent perverts (chikan). Usually males may only enter with another female member on those floors.


Have you taken any Purikura in Japan yet?

When I was in middle school, I remember going to arcades to take Purikura was one of the best after school activities I had with my friends. But now back at home, most Purikura stores have shut down and now there is only one left. I believe Purikura is many Japanese or many Asian countries’ young girls’ childhood memories, and it is sad to see it disappearing slowly as technology evolves and replaces them. Purikura is great as it would allow these fun times to stay alive as prints as well – maybe technology is constantly changing, but memories are irreplaceable.


Celia // Hong Kong