Akiko Kimura bills herself as a nail artist and illustrator. She is also a licensed manicurist. What piqued our curiosity was the fact that she served as guest judge at the recent World International Nail and Beauty Association competitions … and flew over from Japan for the event. She is a soft spoken young woman, quick with nervous laughter and modest demeanor. Judging from her work, as supplied by a portfolio she uses with and for her own clientele, Akiko is a talented artist.
She is currently working in Tokyo, Japan, and is developing plans for a manicuring school. She received her art training at California State University at Long Beach, and then proceeded with her manicuring training through that state’s cosmetology school. Having just recently graduated, she returned to Japan where she is attempting to establish a nail care service among a skeptical and wary public.
NAILS: Welcome, Akiko. Thank you for joining us today. May we begin by asking you how you became involved with nail care?
Akiko: Yes … it was when I was studying art at the university. I saw a friend of mine that was in a nail competition, had taken second place, and when I saw her nails I really liked them.
NAILS: Then you were in California from Japan to study art?
Akiko: Yes. That is why I was interested in those nails when I saw them. We do not have nail painting or even nail manicurists in Japan yet.
NAILS: When you finished your art training, why then did you decide to pursue manicuring?
Akiko: Because we do not have any manicurist that produce such work in Japan. What we do have only take care of the nails, they do not paint them. I was hoping to go back and start a service.
NAILS: How long have you been working with nail care in Japan?
Akiko: Only about six months…
NAILS: How have you been doing?
Akiko: It is a lot of work. The people in the beauty industry in Japan are paying attention to nails, but unfortunately, not from others yet. Only movie starts or singers or those in entertainment do things with their nails. But gradually it should develop.
NAILS: Do you think its popularity will grow in Japan as it has in the United States?
Akiko: Yes, but it will take time. Right now there are only four manicurists in Tokyo including me, but I am the only one doing work with acrylic or nail painting.
NAILS: Are you having to buy all your supplies from the United States?
Akiko: Yes … I can buy some polish and buffers and emery boards, but not acrylics. So I have to buy most of the product from one company and ship it over to Japan.
NAILS: Do you have any plans to set up a salon or beauty supply back home.
Akiko: Well, first I am concentrating on a school first, and possibly a salon, but the first thing I have to do is set up a school … there is no manicurist there that know about product, and I have to do everything myself. So it is very hard right now.
NAILS: A school … then you are saying that you need to teach manicuring in Japan in order to have manicurists to open a salon to develop an interest in nails?
Akiko: Right … I am talking about starting from the very beginning.
NAILS: How far have you progressed with your plans?
Akiko: I have found a location and set up an office. And I flew out here as a judge for the WINBA show and because I wanted to talk with Harold Jones of the California State Board because I am still working on the Curriculum, but I hope to be open within two months.
NAILS: Do you anticipate a lot of students, a lot of interest?
Akiko: No, not at first. Nobody knows manicuring, so through magazines and newspaper I will just try and let them know what it is and what I can do.
NAILS: As part of your curriculum, will you be teaching nail art?
Akiko: Yes, but not at first. The first steps are to teach them sterilization, sanitation, manicuring procedures and the basics of acrylics.
NAILS: Then you will be offering all the different procedures?
Akiko: Yes, the full range of techniques, such as tips, wraps, acrylics. It will be a lot of work, but I don’t think that I can have so many students at the same time. I think five to 10 will be the maximum.
NAILS: Out of curiosity, what does, in American dollars, a manicure cost?
Akiko: Ah…usually $15 for an oil or water manicure. More for the acrylics.
NAILS: Is that a lot of money in Tokyo?
Akiko: Quite a bit … that is why at this point only movie stars and wealthy people are able to afford it on a regular basis. Because we can’t get very much in Japan and we have to buy it from the United States and pay the shipping cost, we have to charge that much.
NAILS: Describe your current operation.
Akiko: I do not work in a salon … I receive a phone call and I go to the person’s house and work on their nails … sort of a home service.
NAILS: I would imagine with that approach that word-of-mouth advertising must be very important to your business.
Akiko: Yes, very important. But as soon as I can get some other manicurists, then we can develop a salon … that is why the school is very important.
NAILS: It must be very exciting to see a young industry begin in Japan … the idea for the school then was out of necessity?
Akiko: Out of necessity, yes. In a cosmetology school in Tokyo they do teach manicuring, but is a very poor technique, and people working in the salon need these better manicuring techniques. I receive a lot of phone calls from others to help in their salons and to help their clients.
NAILS: What is the reaction to your nail painting and 3-D work? I would guess that it is a little unusual…
Akiko: Yes, very unusual. Not so many years ago, the people that would wear red polish were treated down by people because they would think they were working in a bar … there used to be a lot of prejudices on the red polish or the long fingernail. But this has been changing. The big cosmetic firms in Japan are now pushing purple polish, red polish … so it is now loosening up. Some Japanese people now have long fingernails and they do not think of them as working in bars.
NAILS: What are some of the things you paint on the nails?
Akiko: Flowers, butterflies, celebrities … I can do whatever my client wants.
NAILS: Do you offer suggestions for these women?
Akiko: Oh yes, because certain things may not go well with what they wear or who they are.
NAILS: What then are your most popular designs, both in nail painting and 3-D work?
Akiko: The butterfly … it is very simple and doesn’t get in the way. And it is very delicate. Japanese people like some thing that are very delicate, something not so noticeable, something subtle.
NAILS: Do you charge extra for this service?
Akiko: Yes, the $15 price is only for manicuring. For the manicuring and painting, it is $20.
NAILS: Well, Akiko, I’m afraid that we have run out of time … I wish you the best of luck with your new venture in Japan … and please stay in touch. We would love to hear from you.
Akiko: Thank you.
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