Japan woman turns plastic waste into press-on nails

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Nail technician Naomi Arimoto shows her press-on nails in Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture

CHIGASAKI, Kanagawa — A woman suffering from an intractable disease has started making and selling custom-made press-on nails using plastic waste she collects from a local beach.

Nail technician Naomi Arimoto said she “wants people to know that anyone can realize their dream and contribute to society, even if they have disabilities.”

Arimoto, 40, was diagnosed with HTLV-1-associated myelopathy (HAM) in 2014, and now uses a wheelchair.

The virus causes inflammation in the spinal cord, damaging nerves and resulting in progressive paralysis of the legs, among other symptoms.

About 3,000 people in Japan are estimated to have the disease, which the government has designated as intractable.

Job change

Initially, Arimoto quit her job at a welfare facility and stopped going out because of her ailment. She subsequently found work with a local company after being encouraged by her husband and three children to “become a cool wheelchair-using mom.”

However, she quit that job after a year because she was not comfortable at the company and felt at a loss due to becoming disabled.

During those difficult times, Arimoto found solace in her hobby — nail art. She became determined to improve her nail-related skills and open her own salon. Arimoto realized her dream in 2018 with the opening of her Plumeria Nail salon, in Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Thinking that “there must be people with disabilities who want to go to a nail salon,” she made her salon barrier-free, with no steps.

Beach epiphany

Plastic waste in the ocean and elsewhere is harmful to the ecosystem. Japan generates an estimated 20,000 to 60,000 tons of plastic waste annually.

While participating in a local beach cleanup for the first time in March last year — riding a wheelchair specially designed to run on sandy beaches — Arimoto noticed myriad pieces of plastic waste, including fragments of containers.

That was the moment when she thought of using the plastic to create press-on nails, turning the waste she collected into something else. Arimoto decorates the plastic debris by drawing patterns to fashion her “world-first” type of press-on nails.

Arimoto began selling her made-to-order nails in May and hopes her initiative will provide “an opportunity for more people to think about work for people with disabilities and environmental conservation.”

Prices for sets of Arimoto’s press-on nails start at ¥8,800.