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Purikura: a ‘kawaii’ phenomenon in Tokyo

by Sophie Vilé

On the 26th of June, I handed in my Master’s thesis at the department Social and Cultural Anthropology. I have written my thesis about socalled kawaii girls in Japanese society. Kawaii girls are girls with a cute, loveable and childish fashion style and behaviour. The kawaii fashion style exists of fluffy, frilly, pink and pastel colours clothes and accessories, such as stuffed animals and multiple bows. Kawaii girls express their kawaii style to a full extent and in every detail of their appearance. Next to their appearances, kawaii girls behave in a certain way. They try to behave cute and innocent by, for example, posing with their hands to their cheeks and they speak with a high-pitched voice.

From the end of December 2014 until the end of March 2015, I went to Tokyo to study these kawaii girls to get insights into Japanese society and the effects of enduring global processes, such as the globalisation of fashion, consumerism and the appropriation of globalising beauty ideals.

An interesting phenomenon that was really popular among kawaii girls, is called purikura. Purikura are photo booths that use computer algorithms to change the look of everyone in the picture. It is a machine that modifies a girl’s body. The first time I visited a purikura, I was surprised when I saw the photos. I recognised myself, but I looked different. My eyes and skin were automatically edited. My eyes were bigger and my skin smoother. After the automatic edits, it is possible to add hearts, stars, animals and some words like ‘kawaii’. While taking the photos, certain poses need to be imitated. These poses are related to kawaii behaviour, such as putting the hands to the cheeks and smiling. Purikura can be found in a lot of places, such as department stores and game areas. When I asked kawaii girls about their experience with purikura, they explained that they see it as a nice memory of a day out and they put it often in a special purikura photo book. The photos are small, tiny and easy to give away. I, a blonde white woman, was turned into kawaii in a few seconds: see here the results.








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