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Creating a Whole Universe on Fingernails

Japan's Intricate Nail Art


Skillfully rendered tweed is combined with polka dots and pearls for a sweet look. (Cooperation: Nail Salon Rodzina)


Bridal nail art designed to match wedding dresses, with hand-painted lace and rhinestones applied on it (Cooperation: Bridal Nail RELOVE)

Young Japanese women are putting miniature universes on their fingernails and toenails these days, created with "nail art" on the tiny space of their nails.

Range of Worlds Depicted on NailsTo go to the office, women adopt a trim style with a single rhinestone on French manicure nails. On gala occasions such as weddings, women decorate their nails beautifully with lace and pearls to match their dresses. When wearing kimono, they go all out, painting their nails with a base designed to look like red and black lacquer and sprinkled with gold dust. Women attend Christmas parties with gorgeous nails playing on a motif of Santas, Christmas trees, stars and snow. For Valentine's Day, the word "love" and hearts appear on nails. Women choose patterns to match fashionable clothes and their mood that day, selecting from a diverse line-up of options such as checks, tweed, borders, leopard patterns, flowers, dots, marbled patterns and gradations.

Amazingly enough, these decorative variations are all manifestations of modern nail art. Japanese women are able to play with a wide range of nail art, just as—or even more than—they change their clothes and hairstyles to match the season, scene and time/place/occasion (TPO).


This Japanese design emulating lacquerware and gold leaf is a perfect match for kimono.
(Cooperation: Mail-order Nail Chip Retailer: Jun*jun)

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These artistic variations are the designs presented by popular salons, nail artists and fashion leaders all over the world, on the Internet and in fashion magazines and nail specialist magazines. Most people rely on professionals at nail salons in town, but many women also try to recreate these designs themselves at home.

Three-dimensional Nail Art

Recently, rather than just painting a color onto the surface of the nails and leaving it at that, designs in which objects are glued on and embedded and that appear dazzlingly three-dimensional have gained in popularity. By combining a range of materials, such as seals, rhinestones, lame, holograms, pearls and metal, nail art has taken ornamental expression to a whole new level.

"3D art" in which three-dimensional designs are created on top of nails has also emerged. Works of art are molded using acrylic plastics and gels to minutely reproduce flowers, ribbons and animals in three dimensions. Some of the characters depicted in 3D in these objets d'art seem vibrantly alive, as if they could jump off the fingernail any minute. For example, nail art with three-dimensional "Hello Kitty" pieces available only in authorized salons is just as sweet and elaborate as the character goods and has become extremely popular with young women unable to resist anything cute.

Mobile phone applications are also increasingly used for nail art. Everyone can post pictures of nail art and look for popular designs from among such postings, and then "try on" the nail art by pasting these designs over a picture of their own hands taken with a smart phone. Young women are endlessly curious about nail art.

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A monotone leopard print is complemented with stones and seals to create a brilliant look.
(Photo: NPO Japan Nailist Association)

Left: Cute nail art using small, three-dimensional Hello Kitty nail art pieces. These can be ordered at the authorized nail salon, nail elut's Ginza.
©1976, 2012 SANRIO CO., LTD.
Right: A wide range of three-dimensional motifs to decorate nails for a Christmassy feel (Cooperation: Fairy Nail, mynail)

Cutting-edge Nail Art Showcased in Expos


The Tokyo Nail Expo sponsored by the Japan Nailist Association. Free "try-on" is a very popular part of this annual event. (Photo: NPO Japan Nailist Association)

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The world's largest nail exhibitions are held in Japan in an attempt to build enthusiasm for the dramatic advances made in decorative nails and nail art. The Tokyo Nail Expo is held every year in Ariake, Tokyo, where nail artists test their skills in various contests, a "nail queen," chosen from celebrities who love nail art, is crowned, manufacturers introduce new products, and popular nail artists give free demos. This event draws in many nail artists and nail fans. The event held in November 2011 attracted participants from overseas as well, with approximately 53,000 people attending over the two-day event.

Nail art is also popular at overseas comic book, animation and "cosplay" (costume play) events. At Romics, held in Rome, a performance by Japan's champion nail artist was hugely popular with participants.

Japan's nail art, backed by characteristic daintiness and rich sensitivity, is spreading throughout the world as yet another example of Japan's contemporary popular culture. (March 2012)

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