Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Snapshot of Japanese girl culture

Some students sat on the floor in the aisles of the Barrick Museum auditorium while others used fold-out chairs or stood listening, as Loyola University professor Laura Miller presented a lecture about the Japanese trend of purikura.

A crowd of more than 150 students and community members attended the lecture titled “Graffiti Photos: Self-Photography in Japanese Girl Culture.”

The term purikura refers to a photo sticker booth or the actual art created in the photo booth by Japanese schoolgirls, Miller explained. Schoolgirls print out sheets of their pictures and display them in albums or on notebooks – a growing trend in Japanese culture.

Miller, a linguistic anthropology expert, said that the girls use graffiti Japanese writing, icons and other techniques to intentionally disfigure the images. The intent is to mock and challenge mainstream society.

The presentation demonstrated that there are many kinds of genres of purikura.

The different styles in which girls take the pictures include “gothic” and “nurse“ purikura. The photos can also be used to mark a progression of time.

Miller explained that the first time a girl purikura is its own genre. There is also a boyfriend purikura genre where girls take their boyfriends’ pictures.

The audience laughed as professor Miller shared an anecdote about boyfriend purikura.

The professor showed a cartoon that showed that the first two times a girlfriend took her boyfriend to the photo booth looking happy. The girlfriend wore no makeup to the third purikura and the boyfriend looked shocked.
The last image showed the girl at the photo booth by herself.

Miller emphasized the fact that purikura is a social event and rarely will you only see one girl posing in a photo.
She said the act of taking these pictures and marking them is an act of building relationships and strengthening and commemorating friendships.

Amber Schleifer, a student attending the lecture, found Miller’s topic and speech interesting. “I love photography and graffiti art and I think the way [the girls] express themselves is very unique and interesting,” she said.

Ellen MacDonald, a first-year graduate student of anthropology studying linguistics, said Miller spoke with students earlier in the day in a language and gender class.

MacDonald said it was a great experience to meet Miller and commented that she had never seen the subject matter discussed in an academic setting. “I’ve seen some of the pictures and the way identity is expressed in them…” MacDonald said, trailing off in expression of her admiration.

Miller said she came to UNLV to lecture because her friend, UNLV linguistic anthropologist and professor Heidi Swank, invited her. She said it was a great opportunity to see her friend and present the subject to an audience.

Many members of the audience were there for class credit. Emma Nuzzo, 64, attended the lecture for pleasure. “I attend all of the [University] Forum lectures,” she said. “I want to continue to be educated. Education does not die with age.”

Nuzzo has attended lectures at the Barrick Museum for the past three years with her friend, Lois Lanoue. The women said they found the lecture on purikura enjoyable and thought the subject was fascinating. “I never imagined that things like [purikura] existed,” Nuzzo said. She admitted that the lecture made her realize that her image of a Japanese schoolgirl was stereotypical and incorrect.

Miller attributed some of the so-called “unladylike” behavior in purikura to be a rebellion against the old tradition of what girls and women should look like and how they are expected to behave in traditional Japanese culture.
The topic, Miller said, “thumbs its nose at the images of the good girl.”

She said that girls make the purikura intentionally grotesque or erotic because they “seize the right to edit their own image before somebody else can.”

Miller explained that she chose the topic in order to address an issue which has become a phenomenon.
“[The topic is] so ubiquitous that I couldn’t avoid it.”


Kazimirovicz, Nichole. 2009. "Snapshot of Japanese girl culture". The Rebel Yell. Posted: October 5, 2009. Available online:

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