When you visit Japan, you’ve got to get at least one set of 'purikura', or print club, stickers to take home as a souvenir. These fun photo booths come in a variety of styles, but they’re all easy to use. Here’s how to work them even if you don’t speak Japanese, plus a bit of history.
They’re now dominated by teenage girls, but the first generation of machines made around 21 years ago weren’t just designed for fun. Businesspeople could use them to get simple photos to stick on their job application forms. In 1997, purikura became hugely popular with the non-business crowd after boyband SMAP played with one on a TV show.
Purikura booths are now definitely designed with fun in mind. They can be found in almost every arcade, shopping center and tourist spot. There are hundreds of themes, including big brands like Disney and Barbie. Cinemas have movie-themed ones, and new functions and features are being added with every new round of booths. Recently, ‘MV’ booths that shoot a few seconds of movie of you to make a mini video are popular.
While many Japanese girls dress up before they head to purikura, some places offer a costume service next to the machines, where you pay a set fee to borrow a costume or dress for your photo sessions. There’s some fantastic outfits to be found, from a shrine maiden to the classic cuddly Pikachu. Do note that places like this often have a women-only policy, and some only allow men to use purikura machines if they’re with a female companion. Look out for posters near the machines if you’re not sure. To get you all set, here’s a six-step photo guide on how to use the machines themselves:
1: Insert 400 yen outside the booth.
Look for the touchscreen outside the booth and put the money in here. The current cost is 400 yen, but it has to be in 100 yen coins only. There should be a change machine nearby if needed.
2: Choose backgrounds and add names.
The screen will ask you how many people are in the photo, before a set of background choices come up. If you don’t touch anything, the machine will automatically move on and select backgrounds for you. It will likely next ask for your name, as the machine will generate stamps with your names on. If you can’t read the Japanese letters, just leave it. A countdown clock only allows about 30 seconds to enter the letters anyway. Do wait until the screen tells you to move inside, as there may be someone inside already!
3: Go inside and close the curtain. It’s posing time!
Inside the purikura booth you’ll see a green background and a camera. There’s some small luggage space too, but put your bags down pronto because the booth wants you to start posing quickly! The screen close to the camera will prompt you with suggested poses and a three or four second countdown to get in that pose. Note there are no retakes! It will take around six images in total. Some booths also take full body shots, and will usually prompt you to stand behind a line on the floor before they do.
4: Exit the booth to decorate your photos.
Around the side of the booth is another touchscreen with your photos loading up as you exit. Two special pens here can be used to decorate your pictures. You can add stickers, writing and lots of other special effects here. Change your eye shape, hair colour, whatever you like! Every booth has a different selection, so just play with all the buttons! The most important button to know is ‘undo’, which is ‘もどる’.
Note that a clock will start counting down time for you to finish decorating. It’s usually about two minutes, but if someone else enters the booth while you’re decorating, your time allowed will be cut short. The screen will also prompt you to pick the layout of your sticker sheet.
5: Navigate the email prompt screen.
A final touchscreen is often above the print collection window. It will ask if you want to have the pictures emailed to you. If you do enter email addresses here, be aware the link that’s sent to you to retrieve them will be in Japanese only and you may well get plagued with Japanese spam. You can touch this button to say no thanks.
6: Collect, cut and stick!
The final stickers should pop out near the base of the booth in about a minute. Scissors are often placed nearby the booths so you can cut them up and stick them on phones, bags, or wallets straight away. Enjoy!