In a country where concepts like uniformity and social cohesion are praised from kindergarten to retirement, and where those who seek out their own paths are considered quirky at best and troublesome renegades at worst, it is difficult for young professionals in Japan to stand out and make a name for themselves. For men especially, who more often than not must don the same black suit, white shirt and neutral-coloured necktie combo as their millions of peers, it’s easy to become just another face in the commuter crowd.
But a new generation of young businessmen has recently started bucking social trends in order to do precisely what they were always discouraged from: stand out and get noticed. Known as bijinesu neiru (“business nail”), thousands of men working in industries from pharmaceuticals to video game design are now paying hundreds of dollars a week to have their fingernails prettied up with gemstones, pastel-pinks, hearts and even company logos, with many claiming that, since getting their nails done, they have been rewarded with pay rises and promotions, and now have more friends and loversthan they could ever have dreamed.
It should come as no surprise to learn that, this being the land of miniature trees, origami and even one-grain micro sushi, the Japanese are incredibly dexterous people. Factor in the country’s fondness for cleanliness and fastidious attention to detail, and it stands to reason that fingernail care and beautification is big business here, and some of the nail art designs you’ll see young women wearing in Japan’s urban centres are nothing short of spectacular in their intricacy.
But now a new movement known as business nail could be about to change everything we thought we knew about not just fashion and personal grooming but also business etiquette, as young men in cities like Tokyo and Osaka are spending vast sums of money on elaborate nail art and treatments in order to make their mark on the world and stand out from the crowd in business.
We spoke with a number of business professionals about how this new and unusual trend among young men came into being, beginning with self-confessed business nail aficionado and Tokyo-based advertising executive, 31-year-old Genki Tsuitachi.
“Back in the Heian period [794-1185], ninjas would paint the thumbnail of their left hand with their clan’s mark,” Tsuitachi told us over coffee in Shinjuku, his mobile phone buzzing every few minutes and his fingers – whose nails were painted with horizontal yellow and black stripes like those of a worker bee’s body – moving with startling speed as he typed out replies. “They used a mixture of cow dung and the blood of moths and other insects to create a paint-like substance that stained the nail. It stayed on for months, so it was easy to identify an intruder or spy, or someone who tried to leave a clan and deny their roots. So it’s not unheard of for Japanese men to paint their nails like this.”
“There are a handful of high-end nail salons that cater for us, often after hours”
“The concept of business nail has actually been around for a couple of years now,” he continued, “but within the last few months in particular the number of men getting involved has positively skyrocketed, and people in all kinds of industries are starting to take notice. I personally change my nail art two or three times a week if I can, and it always gives me something to talk about with my clients. It costs a lot of money, sure – sometimes half of my salary goes on hearts and fake gemstones – but it’s worth doing right, and there are a handful of high-end nail salons that cater for men like us, often after hours because we work late and can’t get there otherwise.”