What about Trying Japanese “PuriKura” (Part 1)

Manga-You Photos During Your Japan Travel

Want to look like an Anime character? Actually change your face, i.e., enlarge your eyes, point your chin, make your hair shiny and sleek, add thick eye-liner and get stars in your bright pupils? I’ve seen countless you-tubers teaching us how to do Japanese Anime type make-up, and I’d always wanted to try…but with the Purikura (shortened in Japanese from “print club”) booth in Kumamoto, I was able to do it without any special technique or a double dose of face cleanser afterward.

As a junior high school student in Hawaii, I could only get my hands on a Japanese Shojo Comic about romance and lost love, every once in a while. The heroines and their love-interests were always gazing longingly with bright, big, round eyes. Their little chin and tiny mouth were doll-like, and to me it was the epitome of cute. Turns out that Japanese young and old, love the same look and have developed an extremely high-tech method to fulfill the fantasy of trying to look like a perfect little doll.

Using C, C++ or C# code, engineers in Japan create new PuriKura booths with each new season. The technology is constantly advancing to please the purikura fans who, according to recent statistics by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, number some 10 million (this is the total number of members in the online service where Purikura photos can be uploaded and shared via smart phones). Purikura booths are kept full by junior high and high school girls who come in pairs and groups to make them selves “pretty” via the high-tech help of advanced facial recognition technology.

Appearing on the market in 1995 as a playful way of taking booth photos (much like the black and white strip of small booth photos my friends and I would take in Hawaii), the initial purikura product came in sticker form so users could attach them to letters, notes, refrigerators (in my case), or easily share with friends. Now, with the switch to smart phones, users upload photos directly to their social networks as well as keep the high quality print-outs (the printers are super high quality 1200 dpi dye sublimation color printers!) as memories of a fun 15 minutes of posing, stamping and tweaking with friends.

When I was dreaming about the tartan-skirted school uniforms and tall, handsome boys in high colored jackets in my Japanese shojo manga, I knew nothing of Japan’s Kawaii “cute” culture. To me, the girls in the manga actually looked very much like the Little Women dolls I’d inherited from my mother (she played with these in the 1940s) since they had delicate features, big, long-lashed eyes and soft hair. As I dressed them up in the ballroom gowns and petticoats hand sewn by my grandmother, I would dream of a world of beautiful things, princes and true love.

Playing with, and imagining the dolls’ elegant lives, was great but the Purikura booth is a place where playing with how you would LOOK as a doll, becomes an art. And, another part I like about it is that it takes away the stigma from photo-shopping yourself, since in a Purikura booth, revising the way you look into the way you might WANT to look is the whole point! There is no deception here because truly, no one (including yourself) would really think you look that way. No pretense in these booths! Full of unicorns, butterflies, oversized eyes and sparkly teeth, Purikura is a perfectly unique must-have experience in Japan. For just 400 yen or so, you and your friends, family, travel partner or whomever else, can take a super-manga version of yourself back to your home country, upload it as a profile photo, or stick it to your next greeting card. A perfect manga version of yourself to laugh over and always cherish.


Former Deep Japan Writer

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