- "Kawaii" translates to "cute" in Japanese and refers to an aesthetic in its culture.
- Recently in the US, kawaii nail art has been trending, thanks to celebrity fans.
- Kawaii manicures often feature cute 3D objects like gummy bears and hearts or hand-painted designs.
Most often than not, the beauty trends we follow start somewhere else and make their way to us months (sometimes years) later. Recently, kawaii nail art has been bubbling up on Instagram and TikTok, and while its fame stateside is relatively new, the manicure trend has been a longtime favorite in Japan.
"In Japanese, we sometimes use the phrase ['kawaii'] to mean 'cool' and 'awesome,'" NYC-based celebrity nail artist Mei Kawajiri told POPSUGAR. "I would define kawaii as a Japanese style that is cute, cool, awesome, and one of a kind."
It refers to a whole aesthetic in Japanese culture of adorable and charming items. The term is not exclusive to manicures or even just the beauty category — but the endless possibilities that it lends itself to make it an especially popular nail-art trend. You'll find popular characters like Hello Kitty, Pikachu, Sailor Moon, and Minnie Mouse included in the manis, but it doesn't stop there. Kawaii also features playful designs and objects — oftentimes in 3D — like hearts, rainbows, bows, and even gummy bears.
"Kawaii nails are colorful and a design that catches attention," LA-based celebrity manicurist Britney Tokyo said. There are no rules when it comes to kawaii nail art, which is what makes it so fun. Her favorite way to wear the style is with gummy bears or cutout hearts in the nails. There's a long list of celebrities who love the trend, including Megan Thee Stallion, Dua Lipa, Rosalía, Kim Petras, Billie Eilish, and Rita Ora (many of which are clients of Tokyo and Kawajiri).
Whenever she's given the opportunity, Kawajiri loves to create hand-painted, "super detailed" kawaii nail art designs. "For me, kawaii style is not having the same style as someone else," she said.
Ahead, check out examples of kawaii nails and get inspiration for your own manicure.