Since moving to Japan, the number of people I’ve seen walking around with selfie sticks has significantly decreased. Heavily taking photos with your camera or phone (especially out in public) didn’t really seem like a thing either. I was surprised to see a certain lack of the “image heavy culture” that I was used to back home: people constantly taking a bunch of photos, then uploading them onto Snapchat or Instagram. But as it turns out, a big portion of the image heavy culture is located somewhere else, and that place is purikura!
First, let’s start with the basics.
What is purikura?
Purikura is a photo booth machine where you can take photos with your friends and the get a print out of it afterwards. Fun fact: “Purikura” is the shortened way of saying “Print Club” in Japanese. Purinto Kurabu = Purikura. Here's a short video ad on what purikura has in store.
That’s great and all, but what’s so special about it?
You may have similar photo booth machines in your country for more official photos like passport or ID photos. Purikura machines function just the same, except Japan has taken the “photo and print” concept and evolved it into an affordable and fashionable photoshoot! Purikura machines originated in Japan and have maintained huge popularity since their initial debut in the 1990’s. And, in my opinion, purikura popularity continues to skyrocket as the machines start to offer more digitized features. For example, there are automatic photo filters, in-booth editing systems, and even the option to send photos/clips sent directly to your smartphone! All this is available at about 400 yen per session on average. If you’re with a group a friends, you can split the price between each other too. Along with splitting the price, you and your friends can each get a copy of the photo print out, depending on the layout you choose (2 friends can get 2 bigger photo layouts, and 4 friends can get 4 photo strips instead).
User-friendly, fashionable, affordable, what more can a girl ask for right? On that note, although most purikura machines are targeted towards teenage girls and young women, feel free to bring your boyfriend, fiancée, husband, or guy friend to have a try at purikura fun. I’ve seen the number of guys at purikura locations steadily increase (as most come with their girlfriends).
Where can I play purikura?
With purikura’s high popularity, you can find them almost anywhere! If you find a game center, they will most likely either have a corner or a whole floor dedicated to purikura machines depending on how big the game center is. If you’re in Ikebukuro or Akihabara, SEGA game centers are your best bet for purikura fun. I personally recommend Ikebukuro SEGA since it’s a bigger game center and closer to Round 1 entertainment center.
Another easy place to spot purikura is Takeshita Street in Harajuku! There are a ton of purikura locations lining this street, most of which are located in the basements. Don’t be betrayed by the word basement though. The purikura locations in Haraujuku are well lit and in high demand. You will often find girls finalizing their looks at the giant makeup corners, and if it’s a weekend or holiday, long lines for any machine are unavoidable.
My purikura recommendation in Harajuku is プリクラLand NOA.
Address: 東京都渋谷区神宮前1-17-5 B1F (1-17-5 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo B1F)
Tip: Game center purikura locations are less crowded than Harajuku purikura. However, weekends and holidays almost always draw in bigger crowds.
Next, the not-so basic.
Is there more to purikura than just taking photos? Yes!! Like I mentioned, purikura has evolved into your one stop photoshoot studio and offers a variety of features like:
Automatic photo filters
Are the filters just like snapchat filters? Yes, in fact, they’re way better. Firstly, the machine will ask you to select your preferred features (pointed chin, rounded eyes, rosier cheeks, lighter complexion etc) and apply these preference filters during the photoshoot! Aside from this, each machine has its own unique set of preset filters. For example, if the machine is themed on desserts, it will be preset to also apply dessert sticker filters, cake faces, sweeter tones like red and pink, etc. Another cool thing is that filters are added by the season! These updates may be specific to some and not all machines. But by the time seasons change or certain holidays come around, expect these filters to be offered the moment you start your session!
Picture perfect poses
Have you ever looked at an old photo and thought, “Wow my pose looks so awkward” or “Why did I pose like that?” With purikura, you don’t have to think about any pose, really! I mean, you can, but many purikura machines have a set pose listing for each session. Five seconds before taking the photo, the screen inside the booth will show you a demonstration of the pose. This helps take the stress off you and your group of friends trying to figure out what to do within five seconds time.
Oh, there are times when these purikura features can go wrong..
Sometimes if there's too many of you in the booth, or if you aren't aligned with camera sensors, it could mess up the filters and come up with some really wacky photos. Like this one, where my friends tried out the " Barbie Doll" purikura, where the filter ended up extending their bodies a little too much. These kinds of photos are still keepers though!
...Anyway, there's also In- booth editing
After your photoshoot, you will have to move to the other side of the booth to edit and decorate your photos! In the editing booth, you can choose from multiple layout designs for your print and customize each individual photo. You can write or draw on them, stick stamps (of letters or cartoon characters) everywhere, add makeup touches like blush, eyelashes, and more! Although all the option names are in Japanese, just tap around with the stylus to figure out which tab you’re on (draw/write, stamp, etc). There is a time limit when you’re in the editing booth though, and with so many options, editing can be overwhelming! Most machines offer “plus time”, or extra time to finish up editing. If you don’t want to edit, you can end the editing session by pressing the “end” button that normally appears next to the photo you’re editing.
And lastly, access to digital copies of your photos
Purikura now not only offers prints of your photos, but allows you to get digital copies for your phone too! At the end of your photo session while waiting for your print, you will have the option to enter your email address and have the photo link sent to you. This process is pretty simple, though can get a little complicated when you tie in the fact that most purikuras only allow link access via smartphone (not PC), and the fact that well, everything is in Japanese. Keep on reading though, I’ll be giving a walkthrough on how to obtain your digital photos without much hassle!
A little bit about Purikura Machines
What kind of purikura machines are there?
There are too many to name! Purikura machines come from many different companies, and each machine has a certain goal/image that it’s going for. Some are more fashion-focused offering a number of whole body shots and fashion filters. There may be some that are more about makeup madness, offering more bust up/close up shots. Then there's bold/edgy, elegant/sexy, the list goes on! While I can’t specifically link the focus of the machine to a certain company (there really are too many), I can say that one of my personal favorite is PictLink by FuRyu. I personally like the photo print out layout and design PictLink has, and the filters are just too cute! Plus, I find that getting the photos sent to my smartphone is a lot easier with Pictlink than it is with other purikura companies.
Putting all the glamor and fashion aside, there are also subcategory machines or purikura for couples and anime lovers too.
Some purikura machines are dedicated to couples only! This machine is formatted with filters for male features, as well as female. For couples, I think this is a good choice, especially for the guys! I’ve had guy friends try the regular purikura with me…and they turn out looking really girly in the photos afterwards!
There are also some anime purikura machines that let you take pictures with your favorite anime character! That characters could change depending on which anime is popular at the time you take your photo. A few other things to note about anime purikura is that the price is higher (500 – 700 yen) and are mainly found at anime-esque locations like game centers (SEGA/Taito/Adores, etc), or certain theme parks (Namja Town, etc.)
Photos, editing, that’s all great. There’s more!
Purikura in costume or cosplay!
Some purikura locations will rent out costumes for you to wear while taking your photos. This is super fun, especially if you’re into dressing up. Even better news: it’s super cheap! From a variety of costumes, you can rent one for as low as 300 yen. The highest price I’ve ever seen for a costume is 1,000 yen, and the price normally goes up depending on how ornate the costume is. The last time I saw, a regular maid outfit could be rented out for 300 yen while Anna’s (Frozen) dress was priced at about 1,000 yen. These costumes, like the photo filters, also update by the season! During Halloween, they start renting out witch and vampire outfits, and during Christmas they rent out snowman dresses and Ms. Claus outfits.
There are a few things to note about costume rental though.
Most locations will either allow you to wear it for a certain time, or as long as you want as long as you are in the purikura area. This means you can’t take a stroll outside in the costume and must stay inside.
Be careful when wearing your costume! Any [major] damage to it may result in consequences.
The costume rental areas close earlier than the purikura area itself. Purikura areas normally close around 8pm – 10pm, meaning costume areas close around 6pm – 8pm.
Many locations don’t rent out [female] costumes to guys?! Like I mentioned earlier, purikura is targeted towards the female audience, and the same goes for the costumes. During a special season, there may be one or two costumes for guys, and those can be rented out by guys. Though female costumes being rented to guys is a big NO. For what reason? I think I’ll leave that up to your imagination.
Finally, here’s a small walkthrough on how to get your purikura photos via your smartphone!
I’ll be demonstrating using PictLink by Furyu!
Also keep in mind that many purikura photo access is available only via smartphone, and not PC.
Considering that many purikura sites will are in Japanese only, I suggest using the Google Chrome app to avoid constant switching between browser and translator apps, since it can automatically translate in the browser.
So, you’ve taken your photos, edited, and are now waiting for the print. While the print is processing, there will usually be a screen above the print-pick up area that will ask you for your email address. Enter your email address and you'll soon be sent a link to your photos.
1. Access the link that is sent to you. The link will lead you to the purikura machine’s homepage that has your photos.
2. Create an account. (In many cases you will have to make an account to get your photo(s). If not, then that’s one less hassle!)
3. After creating an account, you will be able to see the photos you took. Press “get 1 image free”. * Most machines will only let you claim 1 image free, and will charge for the rest. People subscribed to Japanese phone companies have the option to have the charge applied to their phone bill, and some machines have other options like paying by credit card, etc. (I’ve only claimed the free image).
Thanks for the super informative article. Our first foray in PuriKura on our trip was a total mess. We didn't understand most of what was going on and the result was pretty funny. Our more experienced friend helped us out the next time. This article has all the info I need.