Among the many exciting attractions of Tokyo Nail Expo, held on Nov. 28 and 29 last year, were more than 10 competitions in which nail-school students and professional manicurists showed off their skills.

Foremost among these events was the 5th World Nailist Championship, the highlight of the opening day which brought together 41 professional nail technicians from Japan and overseas.

Staged in a circular area dubbed Nail Coliseum in one of Tokyo Big Sight’s airy halls, the competitors sat at desks with their models while the audience looked on from all around.

Hidetsugu Zushi, the professional announcer who emceed proceedings, explained at the outset that competitors were required to create “French sculpture” nails on each of their models’ fingers within a maximum time of 120 minutes.

The classic style Zushi referred to, which is popular because of its natural look, requires the application of a pale-pink finish to the finely filed and rounded natural nails, with seamlessly bonded artificial extensions made of white acrylic paste added and filed across with a downward “C” curve.

But as the emcee said, “French sculpture is a very simple design, so this is a very severe examination as any flaw at all will result in points being lost.”

The nail technicians — most of whom were veterans of contests in Japan, Russia, Taiwan and the United States — looked keyed up as Zushi counted down “Three, two, one, zero” — then declared: “All competitors, good luck!”

With that they were off, first disinfecting their own and their models’ hands with ethanol. Next, the manicurists began filing the nail edges speedily using their filing sticks from various angles to create beautifully rounded shapes.

After brushing off the filings, a technician on whom this writer focused so as not to miss any stages then put tubular stencils over the nails and applied white paste inside them with a small brush to create extensions out from the real nails. Then, after more intensive smoothing of the fast-setting paste, the manicurist formed the borders of the real nails and the extensions into beautiful curves called “smile lines” — and created those C curves at the ends.

With all that done, the manicurist then painted pink varnish onto the nails in such a way that no trace of any joins between real nail and hardened paste were visible — before finally touching up those C curves with a range of filing sticks.

During the entire two hours of the competition, the manicurists concentrated intently on the nails of their models, who each maintained their posture without moving at all.

Indeed, the earnest approach of both manicurists and models was just the same in all the contests, including the eye-catching Gel Design Extension competition, in which technicians created what looked like colorful fine art gracing the ends of their subjects’ fingers.

For all the competitors, however, it was clearly an anxious wait until, on the afternoon of the second and final day, the time came for the judges to announce the results of all the competitions.

Complimenting all the nearly 2,000 technicians for their great efforts in the contests, the chief judge, Yoshio Mizuno, who is president of the nationwide Nails Unique of Japan nail-salon chain — said: “The level of the competitors was higher than last year, and I believe the future of the nail field in Japan is bright.”

Zushi, the emcee, then announced, in ascending order, the names of the top 10 competitors in the World Nailist Championship — finally declaring: “The champion of the World Nailist Championship is Mari Miyahara!”

Miyahara, a technician with Erikonail, one of Tokyo’s most popular nail-salon chains, then stepped forward, delighted, to collect her trophy and ¥1 million prize.

Speaking afterward, she said that she has been a manicurist for five years, and that almost every evening for the previous six weeks she had practiced manicuring 10 fingers in 120 minutes or five fingers in 60 minutes.

Modestly, though, she admitted to being “surprised at having won — because I thought I have many things to improve.” She added, “I have kept on competing in contests to enhance my techniques so that my clients will be happier with my work, and I will continue to ente3r competitions.”

For his part, Mizuno remarked later to the magazine of the Japan Nail Association on the high standard of all the competitors, noting how the smile lines had been particularly sharp and the C curves excellently fashioned to be the same angle on every finger.

Meanwhile, in the Gel Design Extension category, technicians were tasked with creating artistically designed nail decor on the theme “nail galaxy,” on five fingers in 90 minutes.

Mizuno said at the awards ceremony for this category that the works had been “great,” citing the fact that some creations had even been drawn in perspective.

Then, when the emcee announced the Gel Design Extension champion, the winner, Kiyomi Ikegami, shouted out in joy along with her friends before she stepped up to collect her trophy and ¥200,000 prize.

Speaking afterward, the technician from Shizuoka Prefecture with 16 years’ manicure experience, said that for the contest she had drawn what she imagined as “goddesses of the cosmos” on her model’s nails, giving many of them white or golden wings on which they appeared to be flying through backgrounds of indigo and purple — though she admitted that “it was difficult to draw all those thin lines.”

Asked about what manicure means to her, Ikegami answered: “Nails are my true vocation.”

Sachiko Nakasone, head of the Tokyo Nail Expo planning committee, and principal of NSJ Nail Academy in Tokyo, said the association has held manicure contests annually for the last 25 years.

“Over the years, I have seen a lot of competitors who have shed tears of joy or vexation,” Nakasone said. “I was moved by the competitions today too, though not everyone can win. To those people who did not, I say: Practice hard and compete again.”

After all, as she pointed out, Japanese technicians are among the very best in the world at French sculpture nail art, having won many top competitions worldwide. So for aspiring nail artists, there’s really nowhere better to be than here.

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