Following the pandemic, some people are seeking professional help for a reason that may surprise you—learning how to smile again. This seemingly natural movement for humans is apparently challenging to master for some people who are a little rusty when it comes to expressing their emotions. The good news is that they have someone to turn to for help.
Don’t Forget to Smile
Former radio host Keiko Kawano has been giving art school students in Tokyo, Japan, lessons on how to properly move their mouths upwards after years of wearing masks. She charges her pupils 7,700 yen ($55) per hour for one-on-one lessons, according to Reuters.
Kawano’s skills, and those on her team of smile coaches, are becoming increasingly more sought after in a country where the majority of citizens wore masks during the pandemic. Student Himawari Yoshida, 20, explained that the class was part of her school’s program in order to prepare students for the job market: “I hadn’t used my facial muscles much during COVID so it’s good exercise,” she said.
Seeing A Demand
Sensing a need in the market, Kawano created her company Egaoiku (Smile Education) in 2017, and it has experienced significant growth over the past year. Her customers include a wide range of clientele, such as companies that want friendly salespeople and local governments that want to increase residents’ contentment.
Japanese citizens embraced the mask-wearing trend long before the pandemic, commonly donning them during hay fever season and while taking exams to prevent spreading germs. Many citizens are still wearing them daily even though the Japanese government lifted its mask-wearing restriction earlier this year.
A recent poll by public broadcaster NHK revealed that only eight percent of Japanese people have completely stopped wearing masks, while 55 percent admitted to wearing them just as often as they were before restrictions were lifted.
Interestingly, about 25 percent of the art school students who took the Smile Education course with Kawano wore their masks during the class. She believes the younger generation has adapted to the habit and suggested that masks are an option for women who do not want to wear makeup or men who skip shaving.
Kawano has taken nearly two dozen smile coaches under her wing to show them the business of teaching the perfect smile. She calls her trademarked method the “Hollywood Style Smiling Technique.” It features crescent eyes, round cheeks, and shaping the mouth in just the right way in order to highlight a person’s upper row of teeth. Students use tablets to practice their smiles and are scored for their efforts.
Foreigners are once again traveling to Japan, and Kawano said there is a growing need for people to smile with their mouths as well as their eyes when interacting with others outside of their communities.
Westerners are culturally more predisposed to smiling than Japanese people, Kawano believes. There is also more behind a smile than meets the eye: “Culturally, a smile signifies that I’m not holding a gun and I’m not a threat to you,” Kawano explained.
By Noelle Talmon, contributor for Ripleys.com