Japan is taking lessons on how to smile again after the Covid-19 pandemic

An hour-long one-on-one lesson with a smiling instructor costs approximately $55.
Sejal Sharma
Covid pandemic in Tokyo
Covid pandemic in Tokyo


Covid-19 had devastating effects on humanity, the ripples of which we still see today. However, a strange side effect of the pandemic has been that Japan has forgotten how to smile.

Because its population of almost 125 million people was under the strict regulation of wearing masks at all times in public spaces, people are admitting themselves in classes to get an education in smiling.

The government recommended in March 2023 that people don’t need to wear masks anymore, shortly before the World Health Organization announced that the Covid-19 global health emergency is over. But as per a recent poll, it seems people in Japan still want to take utmost precautions.

Last month, a poll by Japan's public broadcaster NHK revealed that about 75 percent of respondents cited they would “wear a mask” even if the Covid-19 pandemic was contained. When asked the reasons, 90 percent cited “hygiene.”

‘The key to a masked smile is lifting the eye muscles’

In Japan, Keiko Kawano is a smiling instructor running a company called Egaoiku – which means “Smile Education” –. Speaking to the South China Morning Post, Kawano said the company has seen over a fourfold jump in demand compared to last year.

Her customers range from companies seeking more approachable salespeople and local governments looking to improve their residents’ well-being. In the classes, these customers can be seen holding mirrors in front of their faces and stretching their facial muscles to form a grin.

The 43-year-old smiling coach has been teaching long before Covid-19 hit. She believes that Japanese people, compared to Westerners, tend to smile less often due to cultural differences.

An hour-long one-on-one lesson with Kawano costs $55 (7,700 yen). 

“Culturally, a smile signifies that I’m not holding a gun and I’m not a threat to you,” said Kawano, who’s trained 23 other people as smiling coaches. Kawano holds a one-day certification course for people who want to teach smiling. She charges 80,000 yen, plus consumption tax, about $650 for her services, as per a news report by The New York Times.

20-year-old Himawari Yoshida says she needs to work on her smile. She is one of Kawano’s students taking the smiling class as part of her school’s coursework to prepare for the job market.

“I hadn’t used my facial muscles much during Covid-19, so it’s good exercise,” said Yoshida.

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