In Japan, smiling is a forgotten act during the stresses of the pandemic where masks hide the joy behind the curve. Smiling lessons are becoming popular in Japan after three years of government advisory for people to wear masks.
Although masks were effective at protecting people from the respiratory illness, the face covering hid the smiles for so long that people forgot how to express themselves.
Based on the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, as the rules with face masks started to ease, people struggled to adapt to the new way of life without masks. “Some have forgotten how to smile and feel the need to rehearse the facial expression,” the paper wrote.
There were classes conducted by the Akabane Elderly Relief Centre, to provide private lessons to people who need extra help with recovering their lost smiles.
There is a sharp increase in applicants who are requesting these smiling lessons with a 4.5 times increase after the media reported in February 2023 the government would be lifting the mask recommendation.
In May, Japan declared the face masks as an optional choice and dropped the virus’s severity classification.
“With mask wearing having become the norm, people have had fewer opportunities to smile, and more and more people have developed a complex about it,” Keiko Kawano, a coach with the “smile education” company Egaoiku, said.
“Moving and relaxing the facial muscles is the key to making a good smile,” she added.
Participants are provided with a hand mirror to analyze their progress and smiles and it’s an ongoing process with adjustments to the smile till they are happy with the final look.
Yasuko Watarai, a participant in one of the lessons, said: “Smiles are essential for maskless communication. I want to apply what I learned today at volunteer activities and other gatherings.”
Smiling isn’t just a form of non-verbal communication as it is a way to promote well-being.
“Smiling not only makes a good impression on others and facilitates communication but also has the effect of making yourself feel more positive. I want people to spend time consciously smiling for their (physical) and mental well-being,” Watarai added.