Recently we all went to Tokyo. Here is not the place to debate the wisdom of dragging a four year old half way across the world, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I suppose I also hoped that the novelty of being in a strange country might lead to an easier time of trying to photograph Fred who, as regular readers will know, has taken to not wanting to be photographed at all. By me. He has photography fatigue. But by a feat of perverse, parental logic I was able to convince myself that taking him to the world photography capital, a place where everyone photographs everything all the time would be a good idea. It would cure him. I became convinced of it. I remained convinced of it until when, on our first day, I tried to take a photograph of Fred on the metro and he started shouting ‘No Photographs! No Photographs!’ and ran around the carriage hiding behind strangers like some publicity-shy recluse while I tried to laugh off the whole incident off to our fellow glaring, unamused commuters.

So there I was, in Tokyo with a four year old who clearly didn’t want to be photographed. But just as I was reconciling myself to nine days of intense frustration, we wandered into a vast amusement arcade and, amongst the indecipherable video games, a solution of sorts presented itself. We discovered Purikura.

Purikura are Japanese photo-booths, exactly like the type we use to take passport photos with, but enhanced by the addition of virtual stickers that you can add to your photos. It should be noted that almost everything in Japan comes with the option of mood-improving stickers, they are ubiquitous and unavoidable. Most Purikura booths are stuffed full of hordes of shrieking schoolgirls, taking group pictures and then using the customising features to make them look more like fashion models with add on make-up, different skin tones and even specially enlarged eyes to render them authentically cartoonish. But nestled amongst all the girl stuff Fred found a kids version – and instantly the entire trip was transformed.

Fred let me share a couple of his photo sessions, so taken with the flashy additions that he didn’t mind the presence of a bald adult, as long as he could add a star sparkle to my forehead

Even at the tender age of four, Fred knows that having your father take photos of you is decidedly not cool – BUT having a machine take photos of you and then offering you the option of smothering those photos in technicolour stickers of rainbows, pandas, bow-ties, lightening flashes and even slices of cheese, is cool. In fact, it is the coolest thing imaginable. Not only that but instead of just being virtual pictures that only exist on an adult’s phone or camera, Purikura produce actual photographs that a child can own, hold and, yes, even stick on to stuff because when the photograph spits out of the booth it is, itself, an actual sticker. The meta-levels are through the bloody roof.

It is also very clever as this process means that an old-school film enthusiast like myself can get all misty-eyed and nostalgic about how Purikura are just the latest incarnation of Polaroids and still flying the flag for real film. Issues that mean a lot to me but which are as alien and meaningless to Fred as most of my dearly held values and memories.

So this is how we went round Japan, hunting for photo-booths and marvelling at all the sights, amassing strip upon strip of sticky photos for Fred’s scrap-book. Of course, being Japan there were almost limitless variations of Purikura, the best one we discovered being a life sized robot that projected your photo on to a television screen in its stomach. Fred even let me share a couple of his sessions, so taken was he with all the flashy additions that he didn’t mind the presence of a bald adult, as long as he could add a star sparkle to my forehead. He still objected (and still objects) to having his photo taken by conventional means with my camera in public although, since we’ve been back, I have now found an i-phone app that mimics Purikura and allows him to stick sinister looking cats shooting lasers out of their eyes over himself. It appears this is how he wishes to appear in all subsequent photographs forever. Oh joy.

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