1. Monochromatic with texture-created nail art. Rather than being limiting, using one color can open up possibilities to add dimension. Tokyo-based Hitomi Takizawa says her white-on-white 3-D sculptured nails are “very popular in winter in Japan.” Use an on-trend color, such as 2014’s radiant orchid, to ensure the look is pleasing to the eyes. If sculptured art isn’t your forte, give this idea a try by combining matte and glossy textures.
2. Oval-shaped nails. Throughout Japan, the most popular nail shape is the oval. “Oval is a feminine shape that gives a soft image,” says Michiko Matsushita, headmaster of Ci:Z International College in Tokyo.
To create the perfect oval, first straighten the nail’s sidewalls, making sure they are even. Then file from the side of the nail toward the top, using smooth, arching motions. From there, work the angles on both sides and around the free edge to smooth the shape.
Takizawa agrees that oval is the most popular shape overall but adds that square-shaped nails dominate in the middle-aged set. “The square shape is popular with my customers who are in their 40s,” she says.
3. Pastel coloring. “Pastel mint green, pastel pink, pastel purple, and ‘smoky’ pastel colors are popular,” says Lena Kasai, a Tokyo-based nail tech who is originally from Hungary. To add interest to pastel nails, try graduating the colors by fading one pastel into the next.
4. Short and sweet. Michiko Matsushita, headmaster of Ci:Z International College in Tokyo, says, “Compared to five years ago, nails seem to be getting more conservative. The lengths are getting shorter. A lot of that has to do with celebrity moms or models who are coming out with short and simple nails.”
Kasai adds that her clients’ requested nail lengths are typically no longer than a 2-mm. free edge. However, that doesn’t mean nail-art-loving clients need to forgo a design. Just scale the chosen design to the size of the nail.
5. Readymade 3-D embellishments. Tiny embellishments, typically in shades of gold, are a hallmark of Japanese nail design. Some U.S.-based artists even stock up on these readymade embellishments, such as seashells, triangles, hoops, squares, and crosses, when traveling abroad. The embellishments are typically secured to the nail with gel.
“Embellishments are more popular in the summer than in the winter,” says Hanayo “Hana4” Ohno, who holds nail art seminars throughout Japan. “Pastel tie-dye with seashell stone embellishments is a very popular design.”
6. Bridal beauty. Japanese wedding nails have to be careful to not contain sharp edges or other irregularities that could damage the delicate kimonos that adorn some brides. The motifs are similar to U.S. wedding nail looks. “A popular wedding nail style is a French-style white, including a neat and clean finish with several stones,” says Miho Fukasawa of Ciel Nail Salon in Tokyo. Pearl, flower, lace, and ribbon designs are all popular.
Kasai says, “Despite the simple color base, my customers choose rich decoration for their wedding nails. Swarovski stone art is the most popular, but I do 3-D flowers or paint art as well.”
7. Back to basics. Styles are trending back toward simpler designs with easier maintenance in Japan. “Designs using holograms and stones were common five years ago, while hand-painted flat art is popular now,” Fukasawa says. Matsushita agrees. “It seems people are showing a liking of short and simple, using one shade of color,” she says.
Matsushita points out another trend that accommodates cultural shifts, both in Japan and in the U.S. “A lot of people are changing to gel nails that are easy to wear and come off easily. The women here in Japan are also very busy and are changing to more convenient options,” she says.
8. Toenail trends. Whereas nudes and pastels reign with fingernails, “dark colors are still very popular with toenails,” Matsushita says, adding that red and orange are especially requested as they complement many clients’ skin tones.
Kasai says, “Random color application (using two to three colors), glitter, and rhinestone art are very popular. Lots of customers choose to have the big toenails decorated with rhinestones. The most common arrangement is broche style.”
Kayo Shimoda at Nail Salon Avarice in Tokyo says, “We focus on all finger balance for fingernails. For toenails, we focus on the big toe, and offering a color for the other toes that matches the big toenail is our style.”
9. Half bubble nails. If your clients are more adventurous, then you may want to take a page out of Hatsuki Furutani’s book. At her salon, A.M.S. Ebisu Place in Tokyo, nail techs shun trends in favor of creating designs that reflect individual clients’ personalities. “We talk with clients to find out what they want. It’s like a session with a psychologist, doctor, or fortune teller,” Furutani says.
This particular half-bubble acrylic design that is created directly on the nails is “for brave girls only,” Furutani says.
10. French twists. While the traditional French remains popular, many Japanese artists find ways to put their own spins on the look. “One of my clients is a very artistic person. Her job also allows her to do whatever art she wants. She likes unusual designs, so once she wanted to have French nails with a twist. She had one image of building silhouettes in the sunset, so I got the idea of doing the French replacing the smile line with that building silhouette look,” Kasai says.
Graduated color Frenches and other smile line substitutions are also employed.
Imported Japanese Nail Salons
Several Japan-based salon chains have recently expanded into the U.S. with outposts in major cities. While adapting to their U.S. climate, most stay true to the spirit of Japanese hospitality, otherwise known as “omotenashi.” If you want to get a feel for how nail salons in Japan are run without purchasing a plane ticket to Tokyo, you may want to visit some of these recent imports.
Salon: SpaNail by Nail Quick, New York City
Sister salons: More than 70 NailQuick salons throughout Japan
Salon: Mars the Salon, Los Angeles
Sister salon: Mars the Salon, Tokyo
Salon: Hime Nail, Tustin, Calif.
Sister salon: La Raffine, Tokyo
Salons: esNail, Beverly Hills, Calif., and Los Angeles
Sister salons: 8 esNail salons in Japan (plus 5 eyelash extension salons)
Salons: Nail + Spa Sakura, two locations in New York City
Sister salons: 1 Sakura in Japan; 1 in China