A few days into our Japan trip, we discovered the quirky world of purikura photo booths in Japan. And that was it – we were addicted to the craziness of the heavily edited and posed photos that made us look like anime characters!
Purikura (which is short for Purinto Kurabu ‘Print Club’) are themed photo booths that you can pile into with your friends or loved ones. Inside the booth, you follow the instructions on screen, while the machine takes a number of digital photos. Then you can decorate and edit the shots in a separate part of the booth, using a touch screen and styluses (styli?).
Once you’ve made all the edits and decoration you want to do, you hit finish, and the photos are printed out on sticker paper, often in multiples so you can share them with your friends. If you have a Japanese mobile phone or email address (or access to one) you can also have an electronic copy sent to you.
You can find the Purikura booths around popular shopping areas and inside games arcades. Generally they will be in areas where teenage girls are likely to hang out, as they are the biggest fans and users of the technology. One complex of Purikura booths we found in Kyoto had signage that showed graphically that men and boys could not enter the booth area unless they were accompanied by a girl or woman, which I can only assume was to protect the clouds of girls in the venue from any predatory behaviour.
The attraction of these booths seems to be their ability to employ image editing features to make skin look smoother and lighter. It’s like an automatic Photoshopped facelift. And then many of the booths also feature functions which allow you to enlarge your eyes, narrow your features, alter your eye/lip/cheek/hair colour and even make you look taller and leaner. In some of the booths we tried, these features were applied automatically to a certain degree, and then we could choose to increase the intensity, if we desired.
The end result is photos where you look almost like anime characters. I’ve showed our photos to lots of people since we got home. The occasional person says they are cute, waaaaaay more people use adjectives such as freaky, scary and even alien.
So, how does the Purikura experience work?
1. First you find somewhere that has booths – the photo below is what they look like from the street.
2. Select one of the booths from the many themes available.
Some of the booths are themed for fashion, others for beauty, some are specifically for friends or couples. The Poolboy and I spotted a ‘couple course’ booth, so we chose to give that one a go. We put the 400 Yen in coins into the slot and away we went.
Once inside, the instructions are mostly self-explantory, but there were still some elements of it that were in Japanese and a bit confusing.
When we stepped in front of the green screen in the booth, it identified our faces and asked us to confirm that I was the ‘honey’ (female) and that The Poolboy was the ‘darling’ (male). Footprints on the floor showed us exactly where to stand, and a guide on the TV screen in front of us indicated where our faces should be. We both had to stoop to put our faces into the appropriate area.
Then a series of poses appeared on the TV screen one at a time, with a countdown to the photo flash. We had a few seconds each time to imitate the pose before the flash went off, then it was onto the next pose.
After all the poses were done, a message appeared on the screen telling us to go into the other half of the booth.
3. You decorate and edit your photos using the touch screen and stylus.
This is where things get really interesting. You can change the background, add stamps, alter lip, eye, cheek and hair colour. You can increase the intensity of some of the effects (e.g. skin smoothing and/or face and eye shape alterations) that have already been made automatically.
In each booth we were asked to enter our names, but we were only offered Japanese characters to do it, so in order to move on, we just put a random collection of characters together. Who knows what we named ourselves?
There’s a limited time to do all your editing, as shown by a countdown clock on the screen…so it all gets a bit frantic towards the end.
4. Choose the photo layout and send your photos to print
Some of the booths offered multiple print options, so that you could cut them up and share between friends. In most cases, we choose larger single prints so that we got bigger individual photos. It took several minutes before our sheet of prints appeared in the output slot (see below).
5. Admire the end result (or reel with horror).
We didn’t always hit the pose in time… 😉
A lot of fun, but totally bizarre. And they do make for very memorable souvenirs of Japan!
What do you think? Would you be up for a Purikura experience?
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