Getting Your Glam On: Getting Your Nails Done in Japan

Since I’m going back to the U.S. for the first time in four years, I want to try and look my best!  I also don’t like having to repaint my nails over and over while on vacation, so I recently got my nails done.

Although I was never much for getting my nails done in middle school or high school back in the U.S. like the other girls my age, I absolutely love getting my nails done in Japan.  It’s the one monthly “treat yo’self” thing I tend do for some personal me time.  🙂  I recommend any ladies reading try it out at least once!  That said, it was pretty intimidating making the first appointment when I didn’t know any Japanese nail salon lingo.  So here’s a quick guide if you’re in the same boat or don’t know what to expect your first time.

First things first, most public schools have rules against nail art, and many companies in Japan also don’t allow it, so I recommend checking to make sure it won’t interfere with your job before you make an appointment.

Compared to the popular french and acrylic style popular in the U.S., in Japan it’s all about gel nails.  The U.S. has started to catch on, but they mostly use a cheaper, soft gel manicure nail polish instead of the soft or hard gel base and coating you’ll get at most salons here.  Here’s a quick pro/con list:

Pros:  Unless you want to extend the length of your nails, you’ll be using your own nails.  That means you can open soda tabs, do sports (even bowling), etc. without any damage as long as your natural nail length isn’t ridiculously long.  Gel nails usually last around 3 weeks before they need to come off, so you spend less time on salon appointments and refills.  Gel nails allow for a wide variety of nail art, so not only do they look good, you can jazz them up as an extension of whatever fashion you’re into.

Cons:  They tend to do more damage to your nails than regular acrylics/french styles.  I usually need to give my nails a rest every 3-4 months.  Depending on what you get done, you’ll probably spend an average of 2-3 hours at the salon for general nail care + simple gel nail art.  The more complex you get, the longer you’ll be there.  Getting gel nails in Japan can be a lot more expensive than getting your nails done back home.  Generally you’ll spend 6,000 – 12,000 yen ($60-$120 USD) for gel nails with simple or to moderately complex art per visit, and possibly over this for really extravagant nails.

If everything checks out, go ahead and make an appointment!  Most nail salons don’t have room for walk ins, so it’s usually best to call a days or a week in advance like you would a hair salon.  When you call, they’ll ask you what you want done and if you currently wearing nail art so they can estimate how long the appointment will take.  Menus and prices can differ greatly between salons.  The first time you make an appointment, I recommend going to the shop in person so you can go through the menu with the staff and they can give you an estimate of how much it will cost in advance.

Here’s an example of a menu:

© La.nuda Inc.

© La.nuda Inc.

Handy Vocabulary

  • ジェル (gel) – gel nails
  • ハンド (hand) – manicure
  • フット (foot) – pedicure
  • チップ (tip) – fake nails or nail tips only
  • 〜本 (~ hon) – how many fingers/nails, for example: 10本 would be all ten nails, 2本 would be two nails, etc.
  • オフ (off) – the price for having any current nail art you have taken off; some salons may charge nothing or a discounted price if it’s the result of a previous appointment, or charge more of the previous art is from a different salon
  • ケーア (care) – nail care
  • リペーア (repair) – repair for gel nail parts or refill for non-gel nails
  • 長さだし (nagasa dashi) – nail extensions
  • ラメ (lame) – glitter polish
  • ラメライン (lame line) – a line of glitter polish
  • グラデーション (gradation) – a gradual fading or ombre effect
  • 単色/ワンカラー (tanshoku/one color) – one color of polish for the whole nail
  • フレンチ/フレンチチップ (french/french tips) – french or french tips
  • 逆フレンチ (gyaku french) – reverse french
  • スカルプチャ (sculpture) – nail art using sculpture gel for 3D flowers, ribbons, etc.
  • パーツ (parts) – nail decoration parts
  • ホログラム (hologram) – shiny/holographic parts, usually in shapes like stars, hearts, etc.
  • ストーン (stone) – rhinestone
  • スタッド/ブリオン(stud/bullion) – studs or metal parts
  • シール (seal) – nail art sticker

The salon I usually go to does things a little differently, and is cheaper because they have a set of examples the nailist staff can quickly reproduce compared to original nail art which might take longer to do.  Recently these kinds of salons are slowly gaining more popularity.  Here’s a run-down of their menu:

© Fairy Tail

© Fairy Tail

More Handy Vocabulary

  • 2本アート (ni hon art / 2 finger art) – price includes nail art from the salon examples provided on 2 fingers
  • オリジナル4本アート (original yon hon art / original 4 finger art) – price includes nail art however you would like on 4 fingers (usually doesn’t include parts or sculpture)
  • アートのせ放題  (art nosehodai / art as much as you want) – price includes as much nail art as you want on from one of the salon examples provided
  • オリジナルアートのせ放題 (original art nosehodai / original art as much as you want) – price includes as much nail art as you would like, however you would like it


That covers the basics!  If you have any other questions or concerns, ask away.   Most bookstores carry nail art magazines with all the latest trends and styles, so I recommend checking it out!

I just came back from a recent appointment!  Since I’m already on vacation from the high school I teach at, I had more freedom to do whatever I wanted.  What do you think? 🙂

© J // Washing Rice Blog

Right now winter plaids and knit patterns are really in.
© J // Washing Rice Blog

– J

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