When you open any SNS, you can easily find many people uploading daily snapshots of themselves with their smartphones or iPhones. Selfies have now become a part of younger Japanese culture. Numerous gadgets are currently being developed as an update to this selfie culture. One of these is the Sel*Kira selfie light. The person behind it is Julie Watai, a photographer and creator whose name became well known throughout the world after the publication of her Italian-published photo book, Samurai Girl. Her latest invention, Sel*Kira, is said to be the “ultimate selfie weapon”. We turned to her to Watai, who has continued to integrate Japanese otaku culture in her works, about what kind of item Sel*Kira is, and her views on Japanese selfie culture.

Julie Watai, observer of otaku culture from the outside and inside

-Before I ask you about Sel*Kira, which you developed, first I’d like to ask you about the history of your work. Samurai Girl is your masterpiece, isn’t it? After the photo book was published in Italy in 2008, it became an internationally discussed topic. Please tell is more about the circumstances that led up to this work.


Julie:Originally I had vague notion of becoming a manga artist. I made my own doujinshi (fan-made comics) and sold them at exhibitions. But no matter how I looked at it, it seemed like it would be difficult to make money off of it. So I thought that I needed to find something else, so for a short period from the end of my teens and into my 20s I was an idol. Kind of like the concert idols now. All through that period, I took photographs as a hobby. I used the female cosplayers at that time as a single reference. Since then, I’ve always thought of photography as a way to explore self-expression. In the end I quickly quit the idol business, and continued with photography. Samurai Girl became one of the offshoots from that.



-While you were making Samurai Girl, you lived in Italy for about two years, is that correct? Why Italy?

Julie:During that time I was showing my photos to a lot of people. And among those people, they caught the eye of an Italian magazine editor. The editor liked the works of Takashi Murakami and so on, which have now spread through otaku culture, and because of that he said it would be good idea for me to try making a photo book. There wasn’t really any representation of otaku culture in photography then, and so I thought about trying to do it myself. Just around the time I arrived in Italy in 2003, people had just started using the phrase “Cool Japan”. However, at that time otaku culture wasn’t considered cool at all. So I wasn’t sure how to go about making the book. To try and find out, I decided to go overseas once to see how people overseas viewed Japan, and went to Italy. I took pictures there while working for a publishing company related to hobbies.


-In 2010 you published a second photo book called Hardware Girls. Opposite from Samural Girl, it seems to deal with the concept of representing the fascinating-like things to do with Japanese electronic engineering from your own personal perspective. It was a completely different type of work. In Samurai Girls you were able to clearly capture the concept of how foreigners viewed Japan.

Julie:That’s right. Samurai Girl had this feeling of traveling to Japan. I think it really has the condensed feeling of that essence, which is amazing. On the other hand, Hardware Girls was like taking a step forward. The meaning behind what’s reflected in Samurai Girl is a creative Japan. But, I was glad that people were really happy about it and it made them actually want to come to Japan. When I released Hardware Girls a little later, the world’s otaku were already completely immersed in otaku culture. Therefore, the world was in a place where it was a little easier to delve deeper into things and reflect that. Since way back, I’ve been into the SF aspect of fighting pretty girls. I’ve always wanted to capture the moe (blossoming) of a girl riding and fighting on a machine. That was the theme behind making Hardware Girls and Kikai to Shoujo Moe, which were enjoyed by many.


-Recently the phrase “2.5 dimensional” has come out in Japan. Simply put, it’s a word used to describe characters that aren’t two-dimensional nor three dimensional, but are two-dimensional characters made to be three dimensional-like. Listening to you speak on the subject, I think you are probably one of the original pioneers of this.

Julie:I appreciate the compliment. I think you may be right. I’ve always thought the two-dimensional aspect of manga was great. So much so that from a young age I thought it wasn’t believable if it wasn’t two-dimensional. That it’s no good if it’s three-dimensional. (laugh) Because of that, I went through a lot of trial and error to try to get my photos to look as two-dimensional as possible. Even from when I was originally taking pictures of cosplayers. It’s always been the root of my ideas.

Just what is the “ultimate selfie weapon” Sel*Kira?!


-Now you are currently developing the selfie light Sel*Kira. You’ve already settled on what it will look like, and now you’re just relying on donations from crowdfunding. First I’d like to ask you about what made you want to create the Sel*Kira.

Julie:I often take selfies on my phone. Lately I take them with the camera on my iPhone. However, comparing the iPhone’s camera with a separate camera, the pixel count isn’t as smooth, and if the space doesn’t have much light, the picture doesn’t come out very clean. Even trying to clean up these pictures with an image editing application, they didn’t really come out any better. So I thought it would be better if at least my face was lit-up, and wanted some kind of light. There are some external lights on the market, but not any that fit what I wanted. I wondered why not. While I was thinking about that, I became a regular on the Nico live broadcast program Kuraudo! (Crowd!) Funding! When the time the show launched, I was asked, “Is there anything that you would like to do or create with the help of crowd funding?” and so I talked about my selfie light and people got excited about it. From there, it quickly began to take shape. Actually, I’m still trying to get support from crowd funding to start mass production of it. I was surprised at how much attention it received; it’s much more than I imagined.


-So when you reach your crowd funding goal, you’ll mass produce it and sell it to the general public?

Julie:That’s the plan. I want to be able to sell it in stores, though. I think there are definitely people who would want to use it. It’s even got a lot of response from people abroad, and I’ve often been asked if I plan to sell it overseas as well, especially from Asia. I think it’s because selfies are so popular. And of course, you can use it with a selfie stick without any problems. I’d love for many people to use it.

-I read on Twitter that it’s actually being manufactured by a company called TASKO, and that it’s assembled at the factory by hand.

Julie:That’s correct. It really is a factory. It’s really amazing there. TASKO was really helpful when I coming up with the design for Cell*Kira. When I told them I wanted a design that wouldn’t interfere with cellphones while on and something that was magically compact, they were able to come up with a design just as I had described. It’s small enough to fit in the hands of women.

-It’s amazing that it’s not just a light, but developed as a ring light, too.

Julie:Thank you. I think maybe only cameramen know what a ring light is. It’s used when taking pictures of models, though. Also, recently ring lights have been put into purikura machines. The ring light really is a magic light. It even makes your eyes sparkle. They were popular at one point in time in film. Like with Morning Musume’s music videos, for example, everyone used them. It adds a soft ring around your eyes, giving them a cute, anime-like feel.

-It’s really incredibly revolutionary that now they’ve become so small you can carry them in your hand.

Julie:I really think it is revolutionary. You just take it out, put it on, and push. You can take pictures with it in just three steps. Also, you can take beautiful pictures of food with it. Especially when you go to a bar and there’s that kind of dark, orange light, and all this really gorgeous-looking food comes out under that light, although it’s because of that light the food looks that good. But if you try to take a picture of it under that light, it comes out looking dull. During times like that you can use the Sel*Kira with its LED light, strong enough to drown out that orange light, giving you a really beautiful picture.

-Speaking of which, is it totally different from a regular flash?

Julie:Using a flash would be scary. It would give it an eerie feeling. With flash the light doesn’t enter your eyes, so it takes the life out of you and gives you a harder expression. But Sel*Kira gives you a fresh feeling and the ring properly shines on your eyes, making you look very cute.


Regular flash



-Can the amount of light be adjusted without any pre-sets?

Julie:It can. You can adjust it without pre-sets by using the dial to adjust the amount of light. If there are pre-sets, you can’t really finely adjust things. And wouldn’t you want to be able to adjust it on the spot, like how about a little darker, or how about a little brighter? So I want to ask people to use it well like that. If they do, I’m sure those people who take daily selfies will really come to appreciate it. If I were to describe it, I would say it’s the “ultimate selfie weapon”. We have a kind of large-scale plan on crowd funding we made where those that buy a large amount of stock have the freedom to sell it at a store, online store, or wherever else they would like to. That way people with stores overseas can order that way. You can also customize it a little, too. If you consult us when placing an order, you can get your brand name engraved on it. So if people purchase this product by crowd funding, they can give it out as a novelty. I’d love for those abroad who are interested in this kind of business, and by all means young girls, idols, and so on, to give it a try.


When did selfie culture begin in Japan, and how has it changed?

-Listening to you talk about the Sel*Kira, I feel like you can really call it the “ultimate selfie weapon”, like you said. Selfies are now popular all over the world. You could even say it’s become a part of our culture in Japan. When I think about the history of selfies, perhaps it began when purikura came out in the 90s. Normally, the word photograph was associated with wanting to preserve feelings and memories. But purikura came out as a tool where you could define yourself right now in the present, not just as a memory. When do you think people started to become interested in selfies?

Julie:For me, I’d say I became interested in selfies sometime in high school. Purikura came out when I was in my second year of high school. It was the first one made by Atlas. Back then people were crazy about it, and went to take purikura every day. (laugh) Then people started looking at taking pictures with a disposable camera in a completely different light. The image quality of disposable cameras was poor, but purikura came out beautifully. It was a camera with a smaller amount of pixels, with a private booth that really let the light in, and was able to erase all your skin imperfections. More than anything, having beautiful skin in the picture was an additional benefit of that kind of un-smoothness. So everyone could look cute in their photos, and say it was really amazing. Back then, even basic country schoolgirls like ourselves could raise our level of confidence. Holding on to our hopes, it really gave us a lot of courage. (laugh) I think that maybe that sensation was the same as wish selfies. Well, it was a tool to satisfy our self-awareness, but above that I would say it gave us courage and happiness.


-Those are wonderful words. (laugh)

Julie:I just really think it was something important. For girls putting on make-up and making themselves look pretty, they looked at it as a mirror and thought, “Yeah, I’m hot; I’ll give it my all.” It was a necessity.

-It seems that Konica Minolta had already come out with a selfie stick in 1970, but it didn’t become popular at all.

Julie:Really? I guess it was too early then.

-I agree. But that’s why I don’t really think of selfies as something new. But now it’s become popular, and it’s seen throughout the world as a means of self-expression. The enjoyment and happiness people felt when expressing themselves with purikura have rapidly grown and led to the present. Talking about it like this, I feel like it’s a part of selfie culture.

Julie:I think you’re right. I also think it has something to do with the availability of the smartphone. With garake (feature phones), you couldn’t take a selfie unless you turned the phone around. But now you can use the built-in self-camera to take one at the push of a button. Newer smartphones offer flash for both angles, too. It’s like smartphones were built for taking selfies.


-I think you’re right. And not just regular people, but even gravure idols like Yuka Kuramochi have been recently active in “selfie clubs”. As SNS has gotten bigger and bigger, so have selfies.

Julie:You’re right. And girls now look up to models or other people who are good at taking selfies. People really idolize those on Instagram who have a really good self-image. Like Emi Suzuki, a model, is really good at taking selfies and popular. She uses many different kinds of image-editing apps, but she has great sense.

-That’s really interesting. Selfies are a really deep.

Julie:They are. So if everyone gives my Sel*Kira a try, the world’s selfie level will definitely go up. I mean you’ll be able to make your eyes sparkle and take beautiful photos even in the dark, with great results every time. I think the world would become a really interesting place this way.

Currently the Sel*Kira Project is raising support on the crowd funding site Kibidango. In order to help bring about the selfie revolution, please support Julie Watai’s project!


Photo by Yosuke Mochizuki
Translated by Jamie Koide

Related Links
Julie Watai Official site :http://juliewatai.jp/
Julie Watai Twitter:@JulieWatai
Sel*Kira Fundraising Project:http://kibi-dango.jp/info.php?type=items&id=I0000107


Writer, Book Reviewer. Having the degree of MA. (Japanese Literature) I love Japanese Girl's Popular Music, such as YUKI, Chara, Makoto Kawamoto, and Seiko Oomori.

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