After wearing masks in public for three long years, many Japanese are signing up for smiling classes to learn how to smile again without looking awkward.
Smiling used to be a natural response, but apparently, three years of hiding behind a mask have left many Japanese unable to smile naturally. Some of them are now paying so-called smiling educators to teach them how to display their pearly whites again without looking awkward. They participate in specialized classes where they are taught how to stretch and flex various parts of their faces and even their neck muscles to smile properly and actually convey happiness without looking weird.
"A smile is only a smile if it’s conveyed,” Keiko Kawano, a radio personality-turned-entrepreneur, told The Japan Times. “Even if you’re thinking about smiling or that you’re happy, if you have no expression, it won’t reach the audience.”
Kawano said that she has taught smiling classes to around 4,000 people so far and has also helped train around 700 certified “smile specialists” since she started her work in 2017. However, demand for her services has skyrocketed recently after people started giving up the medical masks they have been wearing for the last 3 years.
"I’ve heard from people who say that even if they’re able to remove their masks, they don’t want to show the bottom half of their faces, or that they don’t know how to smile anymore,” smile trainer Miho Kitano said. “Some say that they see more wrinkles around their eyes after using them more to smile, or they feel like their face is drooping because they haven’t been using it as much as before.”
Smiling instructors like Kitano claim that exercising one’s smile is just like training other parts of the body. It’s all about the muscles, so exercising the expressive facial muscles is the most important thing.
A standard smiling education class begins with a stretching session, after which participants are asked to pick up small handheld mirrors and observe themselves as they follow the instructions of a trainer who teaches them how to flex their facial muscles to convey the warmest and brightest expression of happiness possible.
Interestingly, instructional smiling classes have been a part of Japanese culture for several decades, because of the people’s notorious difficulty to convey their feelings through facial expressions, but they’ve once again risen in popularity after the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions were lifted.