Citizens of Japan are increasingly turning to professional help to learn how to smile again after masking up for the COVID-19 pandemic. Keiko Kawano, the founder of “Smile Education,” has witnessed an astounding surge in demand for smiling instruction over the past year.
In one of Keiko Kawano's recent classes, more than a dozen Tokyo art school students held mirrors to their faces, stretching the sides of their mouths upward with their fingers: they were practising how to smile https://t.co/rbPfSM7FlH 1/4 pic.twitter.com/pk4I2HrZgu
— Reuters (@Reuters) June 5, 2023
In an interview with Reuters, Kawano revealed that her company has experienced a more than four-fold increase in customers seeking their services. These customers range from sales professionals aiming to enhance their approachability to local governments looking to promote positivity within their communities.
The driving force behind this surge in demand, as explained by Kawano and some of her clients, is the loss of facial muscle memory caused by years of wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. With masks being a common sight in Japan for several years, citizens have found themselves unfamiliar with the act of smiling and the muscle movements involved.
Tokyo undertakes lessons teaching people how to smile
The result is a growing desire to relearn this essential form of non-verbal communication.
One of Kawano’s students, 20-year-old Himawari Yoshida, shared her experience with Reuters, stating, “I hadn’t used my facial muscles much during COVID so it’s good exercise.”
Yoshida’s sentiment reflects the shared outlook among many individuals seeking to regain full facial movement. Kawano, a former radio host, established her smiling lessons in 2017. She has since trained 23 other smile coaches using her “Hollywood Style Smiling Technique.”
The lessons are priced at 7,700 yen per hour (equivalent to approximately $55), offering personalized one-on-one instruction to meet the unique needs of each individual. Mask-wearing has long been ingrained in Japanese culture, with citizens often donning masks in an effort to combat seasonal hay fever and viral illnesses.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic further elevated the prominence of this practice. Even today, a significant portion of the Japanese population continues to wear masks. A survey conducted by public broadcaster NHK in May revealed that more than half of Japanese individuals were still wearing masks as frequently as they were two months prior.
The surge in demand for smiling lessons signifies a collective effort by Japanese citizens to reclaim their expressive faces after years of mask usage. As society gradually returns to a sense of normalcy, these lessons serve as a friendly reminder about the importance of facial expressions in human interaction and communication.