Gen Z students in Japan take $55 classes to learn how to smile

Smile coach Keiko Kawano teaches students to smile.
REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon

  • After getting used to wearing masks, Japanese Gen Z 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.
  • An hour-long private lesson with Kawano costs 7,700 Japanese yen, or $55.

Generation Z students in Japan are taking classes from professional instructors to learn how to smile after being used to wearing masks, Reuters reported.

More than three years since the pandemic began, demand for smile training services in the country has increased 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 a good exercise,” Himawari Yoshida, a 20-year-old art student, told Reuters.

This is where smile instructors like Keiko Kawano come into the picture.

Smile coach Keiko Kawano teaches at the Sokei Art School in Tokyo.
REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon

“People haven’t been plucking their cheeks under a mask or trying to smile a lot,” Kawano told the New York Times in early May. “Now, they are lost.”

Students like Yoshida attend smile lessons hosted by Kawano as part of her school’s efforts to prepare students for the world of work.

Kawano, a former radio host, runs a company called “Egaoiku,” which translates to “Smile Company,” according to Reuters.

He started out teaching smiling in a gym before moving on to train employees for corporate clients, including IBM Japan, the New York Times reported.

“People train the muscles of the body, but not the face,” Kawano told the Times.

A one-hour private lesson with her costs 7,700 Japanese yen, or $55, according to Reuters.

For those who want to be a smiling trainer like her, Kawano also offers one-day training workshops for 80,000 Japanese yen, according to the New York Times.

She told NYT that while her business was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, she still had the occasional customer. However, her business boomed after mandatory mask mandates were lifted.

Even in the days before the pandemic, wearing a mask has always been the norm for civic-minded Japanese who want to protect themselves from a cold or hay fever during the winter and spring seasons, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

An NHK poll of more than 1,200 people in February also showed that changing the government’s stance on masks would hardly affect their behaviour: just 6% of respondents said they would stop wearing masks.

It is not surprising 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 of Chuo University’s Department of Psychology told NHK in March.

Kawano did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.