The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt worldwide. While the pandemic brought about numerous challenges, one peculiar side effect in Japan has been the loss of smiles.
With a population of nearly 125 million people, Japan implemented strict regulations requiring the wearing of masks in all public spaces. This prolonged period of masking has resulted in a diminished culture of smiling. To address this issue, people in Japan are now enrolling in classes to learn the art of smiling once again.
Although the government recommended in March 2023 that masks were no longer necessary, and the World Health Organization declared the end of the global health emergency caused by COVID-19, recent polls indicate that a significant number of people in Japan still prefer to take precautions. A survey conducted by Japan’s public broadcaster NHK revealed that about 75 percent of respondents stated they would continue wearing masks even if the pandemic were contained. Among the reasons cited, 90 percent mentioned hygiene.
Keiko Kawano, the founder of Egaoiku, meaning “Smile Education,” is a smiling instructor in Japan. Kawano’s company has experienced a fourfold increase in demand compared to the previous year. Her clientele includes companies seeking more approachable salespeople and local governments aiming to enhance the well-being of their residents. In her classes, participants hold mirrors to their faces and perform exercises to stretch their facial muscles and form genuine smiles. Kawano, who has been teaching the art of smiling long before COVID-19, believes that cultural differences contribute to Japanese people smiling less frequently compared to Westerners.
A one-on-one hour-long lesson with Kawano costs $55 (7,700 yen). For those interested in becoming smiling coaches themselves, Kawano offers a one-day certification course at a fee of 80,000 yen (approximately $650), plus consumption tax.
Himawari Yoshida, a 20-year-old student, is one of Kawano’s students. She is taking the smiling class as part of her school’s coursework to prepare for the job market. Yoshida acknowledges that her facial muscles have been underutilized during the pandemic and considers the smiling class a beneficial exercise.
The pandemic may have taken away Japan’s smiles, but with the help of dedicated instructors like Keiko Kawano, the country is learning to grin once more. Smiling not only improves personal well-being but also creates a warm and welcoming environment in interpersonal interactions. As Japan continues its journey of recovery, its people are determined to rekindle the spirit of positivity and happiness that a smile can bring.