For a recording of a recent episode of The Big Root, a podcast I co-host and co-produce with Toshiki Nakashige, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erina Yoshida of Beauty by Sunrise. Our chosen Japanese-related activity—something Toshiki and I do with each episode—was to chat with Erina while she was getting a Japanese manicure. We went to Studio L, a Japanese nail salon in the Garment District.
Listen to the episode on our website or wherever you download podcasts.
What sets a Japanese manicure apart from traditional manicures is the use of gel rather than standard nail polish. Calgel, as it’s called, is durable and water-resistant, and it can last up to four or five weeks, usually without chipping or fading. Manami-san describes it as a material that’s similar to what’s used for soft contact lenses, so it’s breathable and prevents bacteria and mold. The gel dries quickly, so you won’t smudge your nails the minute you walk out of the salon.
After interviewing Erina, I looked back through my old photos from 2011 and 2012 and waxed nostalgic about having wearable art on my fingernails. It took me back to the time when I was a regular customer of Manami Ichibutsu, Studio L’s owner. I used to see Manami-san about once a month, and I was pretty obsessed. More often than not, I would arrive with a theme in mind. Like for the spring, Manami hand-painted cherry blossoms, and for a Japanese baseball tour, I had her paint Hello Kitty and baseballs on my nails.
Take a look at some of my old Instagram posts—back in the day when over-filtering was a thing. My absolute favorite was the Okinawa-style art that Manami-san drew by hand.
Manami-san is truly an artist who can use a fingernail as a canvas. She also has an innate ability to sense what will look good on her customers, based on listening to them and asking them simple questions about what they like. She’s able to design something incredible despite her customers’ uncertainties. This is the “omakase” style that she describes in the podcast interview.
I didn’t have time to get a manicure of my own that day, so I decided to check out other Japanese nail salons in New York. I had no idea how many there were now! It was nice to see how popular Japanese manicures and nail art have become. I managed to secure a reservation at RounGe, a lovely space in Gramercy that’s attached to a hair salon called Kiwa.
What a great experience! Customers sit in cubbies that are beautifully appointed with comfy chairs and footstools. The receptionist escorted me to my cubby, asked me to put my feet up, and covered me with a large towel. Beverages such as coffee, tea, water, and even Calpico are available, and you can watch DVDs or Netflix on your own personal monitor while the nail artist works her magic.
This time I didn’t have a particular theme in mind, so I browsed through RounGe’s sample photos. I decided on sea foam green with bits of shell on four fingers. I watched as Rie, my nail artist, broke small seashells into even smaller pieces and place them on my nails. She had taken a screen shot of my choice from the RounGe photo album and propped up her phone, arranging the shells in the exact way as they appeared in the picture.
At the time of this writing, it’s been two weeks since I visited RounGe. I’m happy to report that they are still perfect. No chipping, no breaking, no fading. I’m definitely going to get Japanese manicures on a regular basis. My goal is to go to as many different Japanese nail salons in the city as I can. Below is a list I found via a Google search. What’s your go-to Japanese nail salon?
Japanese Nail Salons in New York City
- Studio L
247 W. 38th Street, Suite 1603
201 E. 23rd Street, 2nd Floor
135 Eldridge Street
6 Spring Street
- LALA Lash Nail by Tokuyama Salon
34 N. Moore Street
- Marie Nails
166 Elizabeth Street
155 Prince Street
- Sakura Nail and Spa
35 E. 1st Street
- Nails Lashes by Sayaka
20 W. 20th Street, #233
email@example.com or DM @sayaka_nyc on Instagram
- Yukie Natori New York Salon and Spa
39 W. 56th Street