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April-June 1998

Camera Fever!

Nowadays, many Japanese high-school girls carry cameras in their bags. Rather than ordinary cameras, which are big and heavy, they usually carry disposable cameras, also known in Japan as "film-with-lens" cameras. So what do the girls take pictures of? Not necessarily anything special, just scenes from everyday life--for example, inside their classrooms.

Disposable cameras first went on the market in 1986, and now there are many different types available, including flash, black-and-white, sepia-toned, telephoto, underwater, and 3-D versions. There are those that can snap several frames per second, and extra-small ones loaded with the new Advanced Photo System (APS) film. Some are even decorated with pictures of cartoon characters like the ever-popular Hello Kitty. A total of about 80 million disposable cameras are sold in Japan each year. One camera shop in Shinjuku, a major shopping neighborhood in Tokyo, says it sells over 200 of these cameras a day on weekends and holidays.

Particularly popular among high-school girls are disposable cameras that take black-and-white or sepia-toned pictures. These cameras are reasonably priced at the equivalent of about US$10.00. The girls enjoy taking pictures with black-and-white or sepia film because the pictures come out looking just like scenes from old movies. In the eyes of young people, who are used to seeing color photos, these pictures look new and different.

The camera craze among young people grew out of the popularity of Print Club machines. Once kids discovered the fun of posing for Print Club pictures, they wanted the freedom to take their own pictures anytime. After all, Print Club machines can only take portraits. With a camera, you can take full-length photos of your friends, or photos of anything else--whenever you want.

Toy manufacturers are cashing in on the camera craze by making cameras for young kids. Now even elementary schoolers are taking pictures. This summer, one toy manufacturer plans to come out with an instant-print camera that takes mini photos measuring just 2 centimeters by 3 centimeters (about three-quarters of an inch by a little over an inch). Even though it has yet to go on the market, this camera is already attracting a lot of attention.

Meanwhile, more and more Japanese adults are buying digital cameras, which make it possible to take pictures without using film. Pictures taken with a digital camera can be viewed and stored on a computer.

Oddly enough, while everyone is going crazy for all of these new kinds of cameras, used cameras popular too. Special sales offering used cameras from around the world are held at department stores. Sales of used cameras have risen sharply over the past few years. Japan's camera fever does not appear likely to die down anytime soon.