Japan Travelogue

Nails are hot in Japan. Everyone from famous singers and actresses to trendy school girls are hungry to be the first to wear the latest design on their nails. This makes for a huge nail market and a competitive artistic climate as well.

<p>Competition sponsors Jessica Vartoughian, Susumu Kitamura, and Trang Nguyen presented the competition winners with trophies and prizes. More than 200 competitors showed up to compete at the one-day show.</p>

Thursday, June 14: When I was asked to go to Japan to attend the Jessica & Odyssey American Nail Cup, sponsored by Bihoh International, in Nagoya, and the Esthe & Cosmetic Expo 2001 in Tokyo, I was ecstatic. What a great opportunity to travel abroad and see the emerging world of nails in another country.

The American Nail Cup, which is sponsored by Bihoh International, the Japanese distributor for both Jessica International and Odyssey Nail Systems, includes professional and student flat art divisions, professional and student nail care divisions, professional sculpture, professional tip and overlay, and total look competitions.<p>When we got to Tokyo, Hidemine Aritou, Odyssey Nail Systems&rsquo; top Japanese educator and I stopped by Matsuzakaya department store in the Ginza shopping district to visit Miyuki Kaneko at one of her nail salons. Ms. Kaneko is often featured in Japanese beauty magazines for her work at charity events and fashion shows.</p>

In addition to the competitions, there were also several booths set up where nailists and students could purchase products. And let’s not forget the demonstrations where Trang Nguyen of Odyssey and Jessica Vartoughian of Jessica---along with Japanese educators---were swarmed by eager-to-learn students. This was the making of a major event---complete with television crews and print journalists. Throughout the day, there was a fervor in the room not normally witnessed at competitions in the United States.

[Photo 1] Nguyen probably did more than 100 nail demonstrations on students at the Nagoya show. Everyone was eager to learn from Nguyen and his educators, many of whom are often featured in Japanese beauty magazines.

[Photo 2] A Japanese nailist hand paints her model’s nails in the professional flat art competition. Models dress up to match the theme of the nails for the flat art competition.

[Photo 3] Karaoke is one of the most popular pastimes in Japan. After the American Nail Cup competitions, I joined Nguyen for a duet.

Tokyo, Japan

Monday, June 18: The Esthe and Cosmetic Expo/Body Health Expo, held June 18-20, is Japan’s largest beauty show. This show was more like the ones that we are used to in the United States---aisle after aisle of booths, manned by manufacturers and top techs. The nail area was a large subsection of the show, which included everything from skin-care-in-a-pill companies to ones touting space-age looking contraptions for losing weight, body toning, and facial stimulation.

More than 38,000 attendees from all over Japan as well as neighboring countries came to the show to see what the exhibitors from 18 countries---many of them American---had to offer. While the entire show floor was full of people, the nail area seemed to be where the buzz was--- most notably in front of the booths where demonstrations were being held. Nail techs from the U.S. are so famous in Japan that Japanese nailists will wait for more than an hour to get one nail put on by one of these superstars.

From airbrushing and handpainting, to design sculpture, the Japanese take nail art techniques to new levels of astounding. Combine this with an urban, super-cool youth culture that lusts after the latest and greatest trend, and you have the making of a wide-open market waiting to be fulfilled. Top nailist licensed in the U.S. often have their own salons and nail schools, and become celebrities in their own right.

It is very fashionable among young girls to become nailists in Japan, and while there is no licensing requirement, those interested attend one of the many nail schools to learn the trade from top level educators.

[Photo 6] Tom Holcomb and Danny Haile of EZ Flow Nail Systems were just two of the “American superstars” at the Tokyo show. Japanese nailists flocked to the booths where Holcomb, Haile, and Odyssey’s Nguyen were showing off their skills and products.

[Photo 7] Japanese techs flock around the Bihoh International booth to watch the colored acrylic artistry of Nguyen.

[Photo 8] Standing room only. When EZ Flow Nail System’s Haile and Holcomb joined Eriko Kurosaki to teach an acrylic class, the room filled quickly. As you see here, many techs actually stood outside the classroom to watch the demons through tinted windows.

[Photo 9] In Tokyo, there is a plethora of nail schools, most of which are owned by American-licensed Japanese nailists. This school, owned by Sachiko Nakasone, a former competitor and present director of the Japan Nailist Association (JNA), teaches students a wide variety of techniques, from natural nail care to acrylics, gels, wraps, and nail art.

[Photo 10] For my last night in Japan, the wonderful group of Bihoh International employees and educators took me out to a traditional Japanese dinner. That is Bihoh president Mr. Kitamura bottom right---as you can see, there was no lack of food and drinks at these dinners.

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