Citizens of Japan are increasingly turning to professional help to learn how to smile again after masking up for the COVID-19 pandemic, Reuters reported.
Keiko Kawano’s company, “Smile Education,” has seen a more than four-fold increase in demand for instruction in the past year, Kawano told Reuters. Customers range from sales professionals looking to become more approachable to local governments.
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
The reason for such a surge in demand, according to Kawano and some of the customers, is the loss of facial muscle memory from the COVID-19 pandemic, when virtually all of Japan wore masks for several years.
“I hadn’t used my facial muscles much during COVID so it’s good exercise,” 20-year-old student Himawari Yoshida told Reuters.
Kawano, a former radio host, began giving smiling lessons in 2017. She has trained 23 other smile coaches on using her “Hollywood Style Smiling Technique,” and she scores her students on their execution.
The lessons cost 7,700 yen, or about $55, per hour for one-on-one instruction, the outlet reported. (RELATED: Japanese Lawmaker Blames Falling Birth Rate On Lack Of ‘Romantic Ability’)
Mask-wearing was already a staple of Japanese culture before the COVID-19 pandemic, with many citizens wearing them seasonally in public spaces to combat hay fever and the spread of illnesses like influenza. The coronavirus only heightened the prominence of the practice.
Even today, a large number of Japanese people are still masking. A poll by public broadcaster NHK in May found that more than half of Japanese people were still masking as much as they were two months prior. Mask requirements were finally eased in March. Even about one-quarter of students in an art class that took Kawano’s smiling course wore masks while they did so, according to Reuters.