Say “Cheese”… err “Kimchi”!

Koreans love taking pictures of themselves. It’s not uncommon to be in a cafe and look around to find girls at surrounding tables holding up their cell phones, finding their best angle, and snapping away like they are the stars of their very own photo shoots. Riding on the bus or subway, I’ve watched girls go through albums of hundreds of pictures of themselves, posed in typical Korean cutesy fashion: puffed out cheeks, pouty lips, wide-open eyes. Occasionally their photos might include a boyfriend, friend, or family member. I’m not quite sure what possesses these girls to be so photo crazy. Vanity? Boredom? A tendency to do what others are doing? I don’t know. But, somewhere along the way, some brilliant entrepreneur saw an opportunity in all this. Enter photo sticker booths.

The photo sticker booth phenomenon started in Japan in the mid-90s and is known there as “Purikura.” It didn’t take long for them to become popular throughout Korea. Nowadays, these booths are found everywhere from amusement parks to malls to arcades. There are even sticker booth shops.

“Purikura,” or photo sticker booths, are all the rage in Korea and Japan.

Although sticker booths are not completely unknown in the West, Eastern Asia takes them to a whole new level. Sticker booths are big enough to fit around 5 people and usually contain a green screen. Upon depositing money (about 6,000 won= $5.50), the user can chose from a variety of entertaining backgrounds or frames. They can be lovey-dovey, basic, or just plain funny. One of the more comical (and very Korean) backgrounds I’ve seen featured a big swirly golden poop. The user is then instructed to select from various editing functions to whiten skin or make the users’ eyes bigger. Patrons then take photos utilizing appropriate poses. In the sticker booth shops, they often have props or wigs that can be used in photos, as well.

Perhaps it’s a personal opinion but I think the “big eye” editing feature is wayyyy creepy. (Photo Credit: JapanTrends)

After taking the photos (about 6 or so shots), users must then rush to the rear part of the machine to edit/design their photos. Time is limited so everyone must act fast. Designs can include small pictures to pretty boarders to sparkly text. Users can then select how many pictures they want to pick out; the more pictures printed, the smaller they are. After printing, the photos can be brought to the store attendant who will put a matte or shiny coating on the photos, depending on the patrons’ preferences. You can pay a little extra to get fun accessories, like a cell phone charm to place your picture in.

Yukiko and I decorate our photo stickers at Lotte World on my birthday.

Even though I thought said machines were a bit cheesy at first, I’ve started to have a lot of fun taking photos in them. The pictures are a good keepsake and a fun (though sometimes pricey) source of entertainment. So, the next time you’re in Korea, make sure to do as the Koreans do and have your photo taken… a lot. Don’t forget to smile and say “Kimchi!”