The fur coat, the black ankle boots high above the knee and the miniature denim shorts are not faithful to the looks recommended inside the studio, but nothing seems to demotivate the young gyaru.
The corner of Shibuya's busy street is far from granting her any privacy, but as she hastily fiddles with her mascara brush, only her reflection in the small mirror and the volume of her long eyelashes seem to count.
A suitcase already tagged suggests that the teenager is about to travel and that she wants to take with her a narcissistic memory of recent times in Tokyo.
Inside, the store is as busy as it is colorful. It's the third time we've been there. Right in the first one, we were made clear that we could not photograph neither the other customers nor with professional cameras.
The prohibition forces us to play a complicated game of cat and mouse with the employee on duty, in the labyrinth of the cabins he supervises.
Curtains decorated with flowers and images of friends with immaculate skins, large almost Western eyes, glossy cashew or golden hair and bright smiles close the spaces of the devices to the users' imagination or capacity to imitate.
Many are not begging and are inspired by those looks that the creators christened in Japanese but with semi-precious complements in English: Pink Eye, Jewel is Saphire, Jewella, among others.
Entering the required 500 or 600 yen in the slot, customers rush into the booth's photo area, assume the freshest poses and expressions they can remember.
They await the end of the count Uan, tsū, surii, pōzu (adapted from English – One, two, three, Pose) enunciated by video-hostesses with female and youth voices and allow themselves to be frozen by the powerful flashes.
In any conventional photo booth, the experience would end here, but Japanese technology tried to enrich it and then monetize it.
We walked the corridors between the cabins and, through the half-open curtains, we noticed the enthusiasm of groups of friends and couples who, against the clock, decorate their images with little stars, hearts, flowers, rainbows and other myriad symbols and effects that digital pens and complex screen menus allow them to combine.
The Ignored Genius Idea
This was the vision that Sasaki Miho had and that he transmitted to the company he worked for – Atlus, creator of computer games – allowing him to develop, in partnership with the famous SEGA, the revolutionary Purikura devices.
Miho was inspired by the Japanese youth hobby of decorating the covers of school books, backpacks, lockers, cell phones and everything else with popular Japanese figurines and remembered that the habit could be transposed to electronic format.
Strangely enough now, when the first models of the strange machines appeared on the market in 1995, they aroused little interest.
Finally, the Japanese Phenomenon of Purikura Photography
But a few years of persistence later, J-Pop (read Japanese pop) band SMAP offered pictures of themselves produced in Purikura, live on a television show, and set the tone.
The idea was not long in being copied by other music groups and personalities. And the fashion for producing, trading and collecting these fun photos quickly spread among teenage girls.
As of spring 1998, there were around 25.000 cabins across the country and many imitations. Other opportunistic entrepreneurs were installing, in the vicinity, houses with cosplay suits (custom play), hair and other accessories, an idea that, however, some Purikura studios came to assimilate.
Thus, the concept of a Japanese Print Club was popularized, which the younger people converted first to a gairaigo (transliteration) almost mandatory, "kurabhu purinto” and then shortened it to Purikura.
Much More than Just Pass Photos
Purikura materialization is optional. We see history repeating itself, in Shibuya stores and in many others across the rest of the country.
Coming from design machines – let's call them that – users decide whether to receive the final image on glossy paper contact sheets or, through a system similar to Bluetooth, directly to the screens of their mobile phones, tablets and company. last generation.
As we could see, first choice requires some scissors work, to separate the strips or individual images that can come out of different sizes. The latter proves to be more practical and allows easy and immediate copying and resending as MMS or emails.
As long as the flow of customers is high, any of the machines and modalities is highly profitable.
Accordingly, we find purikuras throughout urban Japan and even in some more rural corners, both in gaming machines and in their own studios where the quantity and variety increases and the decoration, from the facade of the establishment to the exit door, it is entirely dedicated to them.
Once Purikura's photographic base became commonplace, ambitious developments were launched on the market, with an obvious exponent in the so-called Videkura, machines that allow the creation and sending of short videos via the mobile phone network or the Internet.
Different companies have chosen to attract different target audiences with concepts that are attractive to them. Love & Berry bet on love relationships, the Mushi King and Naruto allow martial arts aficionados to show off their most impressive combat moves.
Another, created by the Ututu company, chose the name MYSQ – My Style So Qute and seems doomed to success by challenging users to produce videos of different styles using special effects and music.
Purikura's Technological Innovation and International Expansion
As is to be expected, neither the original invention nor these developments are limited to Japan. It was discovered a few years ago that Taipei, capital of Taiwan and attentive imitator of Japanese novelties, it was already the city with the highest number of machines per capita.
In Ximen – its Shibuya – there is even a three-story building equipped with dozens of state-of-the-art Purikura.
In mainland China, the most common is to have old models, in gaming houses or small stores. Bangkok and Manila are also regular customers while in Australia – where the Japanese, Chinese and Korean population is constantly increasing – and in some Western countries, machines are almost always available in small numbers.
Yummi, one of several Japanese passenger passengers, reacts immediately, at the same time excited and embarrassed about the role she is about to assume: “I have !! look here, so many !!!”. And he takes out his wallet and a PDA to show us his extensive collection.
In Japan, any passerby up to the age of forty is a potential Purikura user, but some are more than others. Groups of fellow teenagers on their way to or from school in their uniforms of coat, dark pullover and short skirt with socks just below the knee proved to be the perfect customers.
Soon after, there are the exuberant friends a little older who have freed themselves from this dictatorial phase of life and dedicate most of their time to beautifying themselves in order to refine their identity.
For many girls and women, the purikura function as yet another extension of this fragrant search for meaning and they are the main reason for the phenomenon's existence.
On an afternoon of fun, each can spend up to 4000 yen (40€). We even saw long lines in front of some new or more popular machines.
But certain behavioral deviations around the phenomenon challenged the established harmony of the hypocritical Japanese society. The problem became more serious when certain men began visiting homes with the aim of seducing and hooking up teenagers.
And it got worse when some of these teenagers started to leave pictures of them with phone numbers, offering to make new friends or enjo kosai, as they are called in Japan, financially assisted relationships.
The reaction to the scandal emerged in a short time, with the ban on entry of men into Purikura's houses if they were not accompanied by friends or girlfriends and the installation of cabins for single use by couples.
This restriction was expected. We are talking about a nation with Spartan customs and seemingly immaculate morals where people almost never touch one another, or show affection, in public.
From Purikura to Videkura
The sending of images to mobile phones has become banal (from where they can be sent to other mobile phones or devices as MMS or e-mails), ambitious developments were recently launched on the market, with an obvious exponent in the Videkura calls.
As the name implies, these machines allow you to create short videos and send them via the mobile phone network or the Internet.
In the emperor's realm, any revolutionary prototype quickly becomes technological junk or, with any luck, a museum piece.
Despite the permanent modernization to which they are subject, Purikura continue to deserve the respect due from their fans. After all, these prodigious cabins have been part of their lives for ten years.
And they make life in Japan happier.