- After getting used to wearing masks, Gen Z Japanese students are taking classes to learn how to smile.
- Keiko Kawano is a former radio host turned smile instructor who started her own company in 2017.
- A private, hour-long smiling lesson with Kawano costs 7,700 Japanese yen, or $55.
Gen Z students in Japan are taking classes from professional instructors to learn how to smile after being accustomed to wearing masks, Reuters reported.
Over three years since the pandemic started, the demand for smile coaching services in the country has surged as more people try to get used to exposing their faces in public after the government relaxed its mask requirements in March.
“I hadn’t used my facial muscles much during COVID so it’s good exercise,” Himawari Yoshida, a 20-year-old art student, told Reuters.
This is where smile instructors like Keiko Kawano come into the picture.
“People have not been raising their cheeks under a mask or trying to smile much,” Kawano told the New York Times in early May. “Now, they’re at a loss.”
Students like Yoshida attend smile lessons hosted by Kawano as part of their school’s efforts to prepare students for the working world.
Kawano, a former radio host, runs a company called “Egaoiku,” which translates to “Smile Company,” per Reuters.
She started out teaching smiling at a gym before she transitioned into coaching employees from corporate clients, including IBM Japan, the New York Times reported.
“People train their body muscles, but not their faces,” Kawano told the Times.
A private, hour-long lesson with her costs 7,700 Japanese yen, or $55, per Reuters.
For those who want to be a smiling coach like her, Kawano also offers one-day training workshops for 80,000 Japanese yen, per the New York Times.
She told NYT that while her business was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, she still had the occasional client. Her business, however, boomed after the mandatory mask mandates were lifted.
Even in the pre-pandemic days, wearing a mask has always been the norm for civic-minded Japanese people who want to protect themselves from a cold or hay fever during the winter and spring seasons, per Japanese public broadcaster NHK.
An NHK poll of over 1,200 people in February also showed that the change in the government’s stance on masks would barely affect their behavior: Only 6% of respondents said they would stop wearing masks.
It comes as no surprise that many young people — especially women — are now so used to their masks that they may feel self-conscious without them, Professor Yamaguchi K. Masami from the Chuo University Department of Psychology told NHK in March.
Kawano did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.