Japan Glances

Nail Salons in Japan

Society Culture

Japan’s nail salons are popular with international visitors who wish to experience local styles. Nail art in Japan, more flamboyant than in the West, can include 3D decorations and anime characters in the design.

Fashionable Fingertips

At Japanese nail salons, professional “nailists” brighten up fingertips and toes with customers’ desired designs. Clients pick from various art or gel samples and receive their beauty treatment in individual rooms or relaxed common spaces. As well as day-to-day fashion, it is common to go to a salon before a wedding or other event. Japan’s first nail salon opened in the early 1980s. Despite their short history, the country’s nail technicians have established a strong international reputation.

Otaku Nails

Japanese nail fashion is a little different from the simple styles popular in the West. It is usually based on some form of gel, which has a glossy finish, is resistant to peeling, and helps strengthen nails. Designs tend to be relatively flashy and finely detailed. Nailists might paint gradation in a base color or decorate over a single color with glitter, rhinestones, or other decorative attachments that turn the fingernail into a three-dimensional space for self-expression.

Nail art with characters from Disney’s Frozen.

Nails that incorporate anime characters like Naruto or the heroines of Pretty Cure into designs have come to be known as itanail, literally meaning “pain nails”—fingernail designs that are cringe-inducingly over the top. The word developed from the gap in perceptions between the enthusiasm of the person sporting the nails and the almost painful sense of ridiculousness felt by others who are less devoted to the characters.

Creative designs are celebrated through the selection of “nail queens” each year at the Tokyo Nail Expo.

A Long Tradition

Ancient Egyptians are among the earliest people known to have dyed their nails, a form of self-decoration that has existed in many cultures over the centuries. Nail polish developed in its modern form in the United States in the 1920s, inspired by the quick-drying water-resistant paint used for automobiles. Its rapid popularity encouraged the emergence of beauty technicians specializing in nails. Around half a century later, nail art spread to Japan.

A nailist at work. (Photo by Kawamoto Seiya)

Do It Yourself

There is also the option of doing your own nails. Easy-to-use products, such as shaping tools, application devices, and decorations, are available in drugstores and ¥100 shops or via the Internet. They are perfect for enjoying a little glamor without spending too much.

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