Japanese nail art, Japanese manicure, manicures, Studio L, Erina Yoshida, salon, NYC, Japan, Calgel

The Beauty of Japanese Nail Art

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.

Japanese nail art, Japanese manicure, manicures, Studio L, Erina Yoshida, salon, NYC, Japan, Calgel
Old gel removal
Japanese nail art, Japanese manicure, manicures, Studio L, Erina Yoshida, salon, NYC, Japan, Calgel
Manami-san applies real dried flowers to Erina’s nails
Japanese nail art, Japanese manicure, manicures, Studio L, Erina Yoshida, salon, NYC, Japan, Calgel
Erina’s nails by Studio L

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.

View this post on Instagram

Holiday nails!

A post shared by Susan McCormac (@japanculturenyc) on

View this post on Instagram

#okinawa fingernails! #bingata pattern by Studio L

A post shared by Susan McCormac (@japanculturenyc) on

 

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.

Japanese nail art, Japanese manicure, manicures, Studio L, Erina Yoshida, salon, NYC, Japan, Calgel
Curtains that divide cubbies at RounGe
Japanese nail art, Japanese manicure, manicures, Studio L, Erina Yoshida, salon, NYC, Japan, Calgel
Lounging at RounGe

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.

Japanese nail art, Japanese manicure, manicures, Studio L, Erina Yoshida, salon, NYC, Japan, Calgel
My nails

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
    646-499-5357
  • RounGe
    201 E. 23rd Street, 2nd Floor
    646-707-3504
  • Akiko
    135 Eldridge Street
    646-972-6576
  • Bisou
    6 Spring Street
    bisouny.com
  • LALA Lash Nail by Tokuyama Salon
    34 N. Moore Street
    212-219-3586
  • Marie Nails
    166 Elizabeth Street
    155 Prince Street
    marienails.com
  • Sakura Nail and Spa
    35 E. 1st Street
    212-387-9161
  • Nails Lashes by Sayaka
    20 W. 20th Street, #233
    sayaka.m@live.jp or DM @sayaka_nyc on Instagram
  • Yukie Natori New York Salon and Spa
    39 W. 56th Street
    646-649-5324