There are always wandering spectators at Costa Mesa’s Mitsuwa market on weekends—shuffling down the aisles, poking at shiny packages, gawking at the seafood, all the while clutching boxes of Pocky.
It’s as true as ever that we have an undying fascination with all things Japanese: countless sushi bars (with such names as Rockin’ Sushi, I Love Sushi and Tuna Town), Nintendo, fucking Gwen Stefani and her collectible “Harajuku Girls,” and the ultra-kitschy nature of kawaii-anything.
Purikura (a portmanteau word from “picture club”) is Japanese for “photo booths” and the photographs themselves. But these aren’t anything like the strips of four we’re familiar with at traditional photo booths, into which you (drunkenly) squeeze and share a single stool, hoping your (totally drunk) face makes it into the frame. Instead, these are digital booths that can be as large as a storage closet and can comfortably fit four or more. Inside, you’ll find props to sit on—anything from a bench with a green screen behind you to padded diner booths.
Even the camera angles are different: full-length, portrait, side and aerial. You can alter the lighting and backdrops. Some even have built-in fans for that ultimate Top Model effect.
And don’t worry: All purikura subscribe to the belief that customers need Photoshop as badly as you believe you need Photoshop. All machines feature flattering lighting that will wash you out and make you look goooood.
After feeding the purikura $8 to $10, you pose for the camera, then choose your favorite shots, customizing your photos with clip art, backgrounds, holographic squiggles, borders and more using a touch screen and stylus pen. After a minute or two, the machine spits out the completed photos, and you and your friends then huddle around and stare at yourselves, mentally choosing which shots to host on your Facebook.
The popularity of these machines has boomed in Japan since the ’90s, and the trend has caught on in other parts of Asia, Canada and the U.S. Entire businesses have been boosted with the added presence of purikura, banking on the extreme vanity of young people everywhere. Spaces devoted exclusively to these machines even exist here in Southern California, most of them in the San Gabriel Valley.
Newly opened Sticki Picki in Irvine houses nine purikura machines (with names such as Saku Rin Ka, Stylish Shot Korean, Pink Raku Gaki Corner—which has monkey bars you can hang from—Oui Oui and Bishin the Third), all brand-new and all with spoken English instructions. It sounds silly and all kinds of superficial, but it’s also a guaranteed 10 minutes of fun with friends, just like those other inferior photo booths—just replace that booze with boba.