No one quite does cute like Japan.
And what could be cuter than a sticker sheet of your own face?
If you agree with that statement, then purikura is perfect for you.
Purikura are those photo booths you often see throughout Japan. The little stalls let you take a series of photos and then doodle on your pictures to your heart’s content.
The machines originated in Japan and have since gained popularity within other parts of Asia and have even made their way to America.
Japanese arcades, which are an experience in themselves, sometimes have entire floors dedicated to purikura, and these floors are often referred to as the “print club.” It’s from this borrowed word that “purikura” gets its name - “purinto kurabu.”
These floors have rows of different booths, each blazoned with their own English keywords like “Baby!” and “So Pretty!” The standard purikura machine will run you up 400 yen and get you your pictures printed onto a glossy 4x6 sticker sheet.
Purikura happens in four steps, with the machine guiding you along the entire way. First, after inserting your coins, you’re prompted by the screen outside the booth to enter in your name and choose from an array of colorful backgrounds for your photos. Some machines offer a selection of characters who’ll accompany you through the process, like the PuriPrince line that lets you choose amongst a group of princely cartoon boys.
The photo booths inside are surprisingly spacious, larger than your standard passport photo booth back in the States, but the backdrops are always green screens, so avoid wearing green if possible. On screen, you’ll be prompted to copy the poses of cutesy, pouting girls, with the standard arsenal of poses being peace signs and hand hearts.
When you’re done taking pictures, you move on to the drawing station, where you’re presented with two pens and your pictures on a touch screen. From there you can add borders and stamps to your pictures, with stamp designs running the gamut from fried eggs to disgruntled bears. You can add flower crowns and cat ears or even draw free-hand on your pictures.
Some machines will even let you change your hair and eye color. These editing sessions usually have a time limit, as do the majority of steps in the purikura process, but most machines automatically enter a “Bonus Time” round where you can edit and add to your pictures for as long as you like.
The final step is printing your photos. Here you get to decide the layout of the photos and between how many people you want to split them. You can also enter in your email to receive a digital copy of one of your photos.
For duos, the machines will sometimes cut the photos in two for you, but purikura floors always have stations with scissors for you to cut up your single sheet and divvy it up amongst friends.
Purikura floors are bustling at any hour of the day. It’s not unusual to see gaggles of schoolgirls or couples out on a date, but you’ll rarely see men flying solo. In fact, purikura floors are often off limits to men unaccompanied by females, so hopefully you had other plans for your lads night out.
For those who take their purikura seriously, there are often rows of vanity mirrors with perfect lighting to make sure you’re photo ready. It’s not unusual for girls to show up with makeup bags and hair tools in tow, primping and preening before their photo shoots.
And if you really want to take your pictures to the next level, you can rent costumes or wigs, ranging from Disney princesses to traditional yukatas.
Although you can control it to some degree, most purikura machines will photoshop your image to a ridiculous degree: elongating legs, widening eyes, slimming faces, and whitening skin. The photos almost always inevitably end up like some bug-eyed, stretched out version of yourself, but it’s always a fun experience nevertheless, and something you need to try at least once while in Japan.
While it’s not guaranteed that you’ll love this anime-d out version of yourself, I’m sure the memories will stick around for a while.