Video: Japan's 'Purikura' Photo Booths Offer Snapchat-Like Filters

Jul 3, 2017
Originally published on July 6, 2017 2:01 pm

Japanese purikura photo booths, which produce selfies that you can decorate and print out, predate Snapchat filters by at least a decade. At about $3.50 a pop, they are still attracting hordes of Tokyo teenagers.

NPR Code Switch reporter Kat Chow and I gave purikura — the word is a mashup of the Japanese purinto kurabu or "print club" — a try. A couple of teenage girls in Tokyo's Harajuku district advised us on how to optimize our experience.

But it was a good thing a reporter on race and culture was on hand: We ended up discovering that the instant modifications happening to images in these photo booths raise some questions about what's considered beautiful in the eyes of the Japanese.

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In the age of Snapchat and Instagram, where almost anybody can have the equivalent of a photo studio in their hands, some people still use old-style photo booths. That's especially true in Japan, where the photo booths are called purikura. It's something Elise tries, in her series of that name. NPR's Elise Hu, here with Code Switch's Kat Chow in Tokyo.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: So the whole reason we're on this street is because we're going to try out Japanese print clubs, and that's where the word purikura comes from.

KAT CHOW, BYLINE: All right.

HU: It's short for purinto kurabu. (Reading) Insert four coins and touch the display screen to start.


HU: Get in there. One part of the booth, you actually take the photo. And then you, like, rush over to the other one and decorate your photo.

Decorate with sparkles and emojis, sure. But you can also enhance your image a lot - resize your features, even out skin tone, elongate your legs, change your makeup. You name it.

Kat, I'm about to do this to your face.

CHOW: Are you fixing my eyebrows?

HU: I think you need bigger eyes. And I'm going to make your face smaller.

Once you're finished, the booths print out a set of photos you can share with your friends.

Ooh, our photos are out. Our photos are out.

CHOW: Aw, those are cute.

HU: Purikura arcades feature several booths with various backgrounds. And one photo session is only about $4. So after school, hordes of Japanese teenagers stop by in groups. Since they're the experts, we asked them.

How do you make a really purikura experience? How do you look really good?

Sixteen-year-old Honami.

HONAMI: (Through interpreter) You should hide your face by your hairs to make it...

HU: ...Oh, cover your face.

HONAMI: (Through interpreter) Yeah, to smaller.

HU: So maybe the best purikura look for us is one where we're barely seen at all. Elise Hu, NPR News, Tokyo.

INKSEEP: Video of the purikura experience is at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.