CONTRIBUTED SARRA MCMILLAN
Shortly after my arrival in Okinawa in December 2009, a new-found friend pulled me towards the flashing lights and screaming sounds of teenagers playing arcade games. “Have you ever done purikura?” she asked.The word was as unknown to me at that time as arigatou and irasshaimase, so I just looked at her blankly – a popular facial expression for foreigners in Japan.
Purikura (プリクラ) is the shortened name of Print Club (purinto kurabu) and the favourite past-time of Japanese high school students. But, it’s not only for self-indulgent adolescents!
Unlike photo-booths that you may find in a Western mall, Japan’s purikura are decked out with a multitude of features, for both pre-and-post picture-taking. Upon entering the booth, you put in your money (usually 400) and the machine will allow you to choose how pale or tan you want your skin to look. Some special machines also let you choose eye or hair colour. (A warning about this: the machines don’t always pick up on lighter coloured features!)
Then, you will get to choose different backgrounds and ideas for poses. This is all in Japanese, but you really cannot go wrong! Just push some buttons! You have lots of space to move around and be as ridiculous as your imagination allows.
Once the posing and picture-taking are over, the fun is definitely not. Now, you get to decorate your pictures! You will exit the purikura booth and under a curtain on the side, will be a double screen, displaying your pictures. Two people can decorate at once, though you cannot both decorate the same picture simultaneously! Using the pen, browse through the different features. Again, it’s all in Japanese, but playing around with the strange specialties that the machine offers is an incredibly entertaining experience.
If the purikura place is packed, you’ll have a decoration time limit. However, if no one goes into the machine after you, you have as much time as your want to make your pictures as absurd as possible. Once you are finished, you will choose which pictures you want printed out and then, in about 3 minutes, you’ll have a sticker sheet in your hot little hand. Cut them up, distribute them, laugh at them, and show them to people from home to remind them that you really are living in a foreign country!
Purikura machines can be found almost everywhere in Japan, particularly in the arcades in malls like Main Place. On Kokusai Street, above McDonalds, there is a specialty shop that is really just a room filled with purikura. You can rent costumes, do your make-up, borrow wigs … the opportunities for amusement are endless!