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Summary: “Play, Process and Materiality in Japanese Purikura Photography”

Purikura (short for purinto kurabu) = print club

Koguru = stylish urban Japanese high-school girls

Kawaii = cute

Purikura is a “widespread phenomenon in contemporary Japan” referring to passport-style photo booths that print out photos in the form of stickers (109). In Mette Sandbye’s “Play, Process and Materiality in Japanese Purikura Photography” from Digital Snaps, she states that purikura is largely a social device and its popularity is a throwback to materiality; purikura is largely a “means of strengthening social bonds, friendship ties and group belonging” among younger demographics wherein the physicality of the sticker is a major component of the appeal (111). Purikura is a material counterpart to flickr, instagram, and other online means of photo sharing.

This form of digital photography is mostly found in shopping malls, arcades, and other places of leisure and attracts all demographics, but especially female teenagers. Users of purikura (68% of teens polled by Cawaii! Magazine state that they engage with a Print Club machine at least weekly) mount their images in custom scrapbooks, and keep extras in ornately decorated boxes for trading (111-112).

Originally, the machines were developed in Japan as a service for family pictures. When the booths failed, Atlus teamed with Sega to introduce the technology to locations of leisure immediately catching the attention of youths. Purikura spread to other Asian countries and the United States, but enjoyed the most success in Japan (112).

The booths work similarly to passport-style photo booths, but a user is able to choose background, lighting, and add digital effects such as text overlays, accessories, hairstyles, etc. (112-113). In practice, the stickers mix local culture with “modern mass-culture phenomena” (118).

Purikura is heavily linked to girl culture and school life in Japan; its success is heavily related to the influence of koguru in Japanese culture. As the stickers are primarily traded by girls in a school setting, the pictures generally “reinforce peer-centred friendship communities” (116). Sandbye states that the phenomenon largely emphasizes “adapting and belonging to the group” (118). The newest booths enforce “conventional codes of femininity as cute” by changing the user’s face (lightening hair, enlarging eyes, thinning the face, etc.) (121).

However, Laura Miller argues that purikura can be a platform for a culture of resistance; users are able to “undertake a critical attitude towards typical Japanese gender representations” by grimacing or making obscene drawings or poses (122). The act of staging and playing with gender roles are “central elements of purikura” (125).


Sandbye, Mette. “Play, Process and Materiality in Japanese Purikura Photography.” Digital Snaps: The New Face of Photography. Ed. Jonas Larson and Mette Sandbye. New York: I.B. Taurus, 2013. 109-130. Print.


About brianmccle

uwaterloo - MA rhetoric&communication


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