For Gen Z in Japan, a smile is worth $55. Hour-long classes aim to teach students how to smile again without a mask.


According to a Reuters report, professional instructors are now teaching Gen Z students in Japan how to smile as they transition from wearing masks. After more than three years since the start of the pandemic, there has been a surge in demand for smile coaching services since the government relaxed its mask requirements in March. As people try to adjust to exposing their faces in public again, smile instructors like Keiko Kawano play a crucial role in helping them exercise their facial muscles. "It's a good exercise because I hadn't used my facial muscles much during COVID," said 20-year-old art student Himawari Yoshida in an interview with Reuters. 

In early May, Keiko Kawano told the New York Times that with most people wearing masks, they have not been raising their cheeks or smiling, and are now struggling to do so. As part of their school's effort to prepare students for the working world, students like Yoshida attend smile lessons hosted by Kawano, who runs "Egaoiku," translated to "Smile Company" in English. Kawano, a former radio host, began teaching smiling in a gym but later transitioned to coaching employees from corporate clients like IBM Japan. She said, "People train their body muscles, but not their faces," to the Times. Kawano charges 7,700 Japanese yen or $55 for an hour-long private lesson and offers workshops for those who aspire to become smile coaches. Although her business was affected by the pandemic, it surged once the mandatory mask mandates were lifted. 

Japanese people traditionally wear masks during winter and spring seasons, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK, to protect themselves from cold or hay fever. A February poll by NHK showed that only 6% of respondents would stop wearing masks, indicating that many people are still attuned to wearing masks. Psychologist Professor Yamaguchi K. Masami from the Chuo University Department of Psychology told NHK that many young people, particularly women, have become accustomed to masks and may feel self-conscious without them. Insider has reached out to Kawano for comment. 

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