Purikura give you swoon-worthy selfies and group photos at the touch of your fingertips.

Remember the photo booth, that quaint old machine with just enough room for two people to take a series of wallet-sized black and whites? Aside from the occasional nostalgic standby, or the hipster-cool throwback, these babies have gone by the wayside—and it’s no surprise. In our increasingly digital lives we have instant access to image sharing via all kinds of social media platforms. So is the physical photo dead?

Not in Japan, where purikura are the reigning print kings. Purikura are high-tech, high-fashion photo booths that rake in an estimated $63 million a year. A popular phenomenon since the mid-90s, purikura first appeared in arcade centres. Instead of getting automatically printed, passport-style photos, customers could add cute borders to the photos, which were printed on glossy paper with adhesive backing. The sticker pics became a huge hit when mega boy band SMAP gave copies out to their fans, igniting a trend that’s still going strong today. Now you can experience purikura—a nickname derived from Print Club (Purinto Kurabu), the earliest brand of photo stickers—in the traditional arcade setting, at some karaoke booths or at a Purikura Mecca (プリクラのメッカ). The most sophisticated locations include multiple booths with all kinds of specialty functions and even optional costumes to wear while you’re snapping away. Most purikura cost around ¥400 (about $4.50) for a variety sheet, perfect for sharing with your friends. That’s important, because purikura are all about having fun with a group.

While the earliest purikura were pretty basic, today’s booths are known for their high-quality images, studio-level lighting and sophisticated editing options. They tend to provide variations on the airbrushed photo finish: softening fine lines, brightening skin tones and even widening eyes (sometimes to frightening, glittery proportions!). You can take photos from a variety of different angles ranging from up close to full body, and some booths even have a leg-slimming function to give you that thigh gap you’ve only ever seen in magazines. All this editing happens in the rakugaki (落書き) corner: after you’ve taken and selected your favourite photos in the privacy of the photo booth, you have a limited amount of time to edit your images before they’re finalized and printed. Not only can you transform yourself and your friends into modern-day models, you can also add background and foreground details, scribble your names, add digital stamps …the sky’s the limit! It’s the perfect souvenir for anyone who travels to Japan, and a must for long-term or permanent residents.


Learn the proper photo booth etiquette

BE YOUR OWN PAPARAZZI

Are you ready to get studio quality out of a five-foot-wide space? Great! Here are some tips to get the most out of your purikura adventures.

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DO use the extra functions when you edit purikura.

Cover yourself in stamps, scribble your name or give your friends bunny ears. It’s up to you!

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Gentlemen, DON’T go alone

In order to fend off creepers, guys aren’t allowed in booths unless they’re accompanied by one or more ladies.

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DO strike a pose!

Embrace your inner cuteness by giving your purikura screen the peace sign or delicately framing your face with your hands.


Illustrations by Chieko Watanabe