Health & Beauty: Finger tips

Bored with summer pastels? This season nail art brightens fingers and toes, as Jeannette Ng learns.

The sky's the limit at Tokyo's trendy nail studios

It's summer. Time to get out the sundress and sandals. And what better way to celebrate the hot season than to go as bare as you dare?
But as the beauty-conscious know—but will never tell—there is a fine art to revealing all. As the woollies, boots and gloves make their exit, enter the oil-blotters, sunblocks, waxing creams and … nail polish. The last things you want the sun to expose are uneven or chipped nails. But why settle for groomed when you can have grand, as in custom-made masterpieces you can carry on the tips of your fingers?

 

Pretty as a picture
Nail art is the full monty of nail care. Those looking to follow this funky fad shouldn't settle for the average coral pink or red varnish. Go all out and get nice big nail extensions; then get designs inked or stenciled or airbrushed in all shapes and colors. And no nail art would be complete without a sprinkle of glitter, spangles, tiny rhinestones or even crystals.

In recent years, three-dimensional fantasy artwork has also come to the fore. Now you can have anything made in acrylic or fiberglass and glued onto your fingernails, from miniature seashells and flowers to tiny Christmas trees and winged Cupids. In Japan, you can even adorn your digits with miniature mobile phones complete with teensy-weensy antennas—honestly.

Flowers bloom on nails across the city

If anybody dares to say that sounds over the top, tell them that fancy nail artwork has a long pedigree. As early as 5000 BC, the Chinese began decorating hands and fingers with delicate paint work. By about 3500 BC, the Egyptians were also getting into the act. It's only fitting that we in the 21st century should, ahem, hand on this grand tradition.

 

Big in Japan
In Japan today, neiru aruto is big business. There are an estimated 2,000 nail salons scattered around the country, not to mention the numerous nail specialist schools that churn out professional manicurists year after year. The 16th International Nail Expo was even held last November in Tokyo. Looking for ideas for your next manicure? Dodge into the nearest convenience store and gawk at the quarterly magazine Nail Max, which offers 130 pages of advice and ideas on nail art.

Nail care has also taken a high-tech turn, with the introduction of gel nails. Gel is a more natural-looking and lower-maintenance alternative to the more common acrylic, and has been around in Europe and the US for more than a decade. But gel nails are still relatively new to the Japanese market.

Make your masterpiece last and ask for gel nails.

"Nail art started getting popular here about five or six years ago, but gel nails have only come in recently," reckons Misuzu Taga, manicurist at Moga Brook salon. The nail artist and instructor won accolades and competitions in the UK, where she trained. More recently, Taga beat 30 contestants to win both the top overall prize and the "Most Stylish" design award in Japan's first-ever gel nail art competition, held last month in Daikanyama.

Taga's newest designs for the summer lean toward the fun and frolicsome, such as intertwining dolphins with tropical flowers and warm colors. Currently, her favorite design features an exquisite butterfly halved between two fingernails. Swedish client Freja Brandelius, 27, opts to get her name inked in stylized Tibetan characters on one finger and her husband's on another, interspersed with a summer flower design.

"I didn't know it would be so much fun!" she says, looking her nails over. "I'm going to have to come back. I'm going away next month and it'll be nice to get this for when I'm on holiday."

 

A yen for nails
Beautiful nails don't come cheap. Tokyo prices for manicured extensions plus artwork hover around ¥10,000 for all ten digits. Some consider it money well spent, however, and the intricate brushwork is testimony to the artist's skill. Of course nothing lasts forever, and you will have to remove the masterpieces once the nails have grown out.
"Gel nail art lasts longer," says Taga. "It can last up to a month, and we can teach you how to maintain your nails at home. So, you only need to come to the salon once every three or four weeks."

You can also opt to reserve the fancy touch for that special occasion. "I was going to a friend's wedding at the weekend," says Sako, a 30-something language instructor. "So my nailist (Japanese slang for manicurist) put these sparkling stones on my nails. It's great. I don't even have to wear rings because my fingers already look so good."

Talk about beauty being skin—or should we say nail—deep.

 

Getting nailed

 
 
 
 

Le Solei
White-draped and pretty salon offers interesting creations such as airbrushed stars and tiny crescent moons.

Open 11am-8pm, closed Mondays. 3F, 24-10 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku. Nearest stn: Daikanyama. Tel: 03-5428-1901.
www.le-soleil.net

 

Moga Brook
Uses Organicalgel, a gas-permeable gel product. Beautician duo Misuzu Taga and Misa Takikawa have each won several UK competitions, and offer friendly expertise in their cozy, sunlit studio.

Open 10am-7pm daily. Room 202, 1-21-9 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. Nearest stn: Harajuku. Tel: 03-5412-8203 (English).

 

Nadine
Comfortable and quiet salon offers nice big armchairs for you to relax in while having your nails done.

Open 11am-10pm daily. 2F, 3-24-4 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku. Nearest stn:Ebisu. Tel: 03-5778-3170.

 

Reveal
Opened by award-winning beautician and instructor Eriko Kurosaki, this spacious white-and-blue salon has a high-tech feel, and boasts individual cubicles for shyer clients.

Open 11am-9pm daily, closed every second and fourth Tuesday. 6F, 3-30-11 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku. Nearest stn: Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3352-0129.

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434: Finger tips
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416: House of spirit
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414: It's only natural
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412: Smooth moves
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410: Beauty for busy people
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