About six years ago, Keiko Kawano, a radio host, found that when she stopped practicing voice-expression exercises, her smile began to fade. At a certain point, she was struggling to lift the corners of her mouth.

So Ms. Kawano, 43, decided to learn how facial muscles work. After using the knowledge to revive his own smile, he began helping others to do the same under the motto “More smiles, more happiness”.

And while many people in Japan are exposed after three years and find her facial expressions a bit dry, she is adapting her work to the post-Covid era.

“People are not lifting their cheeks or trying to smile as much under the mask,” Ms. Kawano said last week. “Now, they’re at a loss.”

Ms. Kawano began teaching smiling at a gym in 2017 while working as a business etiquette instructor.

Despite having no medical training, her curriculum, typically taught online or in person in one-hour sessions, draws on yoga and emphasizes strengthening the zygomatic muscles, which pull up the corners of the mouth. Are. She also believes that the muscles just below the eyes are important and that those that are weak tend to produce a smile that moves from the brows, which can lead to wrinkles on the forehead.

“People train the muscles of their bodies, but not their faces,” she said.

After his gig at the gym, he began teaching smiling in nursing homes and corporate offices, along with people hoping that a better smile could help them get a better job or improve their chances of marriage. An early customer was IBM Japan, where it organized a Smile training session for the company’s employees and their families.

Then came the pandemic, hiding everyone’s smiles behind face masks and hurting his business. Still, Ms. Kawano was sometimes asked for advice on how to smile through her.

Ms. Kawano tells her clients that the key to a masked smile is to lift the muscles of the eyes. performed by a TV presenter his method on a national broadcast, she said, and a Post Knowing about it online helped raise her profile.

But the biggest increase in demand for his services came in February, he said, when the government announced that official masking recommendations would be relaxed significantly.

“People started realizing that they didn’t use their cheek or mouth muscles very much,” Ms. Kawano said, speaking by phone during a trip to South Korea, where she had an appointment for a facial. which he said would be good for him. his cheekbones. “And you can’t suddenly start using these muscles. You need to work at them.”

Yael Hanin, an expert on facial expressions, said she was not aware of any academic studies documenting the effects of prolonged masking on facial muscles.

“Facial muscles can be trained like other muscles, although such training can be challenging because of the large variability between individuals,” Professor Hannin said. runs a neuro-engineering lab at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

“One potential problem with a practiced or fake smile is that it can be detected by other people,” she said.

There are also other smile-training classes for retail employees common in modern Japan. But in a Japanese social context, smiling is much less important than bowing. Some Japanese women are also conditioned to cover their mouths when eating or laughing.

“Smiling lessons seem very Western,” said Tomohisa Sumida, a visiting researcher at Keio University who studies the history of masking in Japan.

But Ms. Kawano’s clients appear to be happy with her work.

Miki Okamoto, a spokeswoman for IBM Japan, said Ms. Kawano’s smile-training sessions “received a good response.”

In Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, about 40 seniors attended 90-minute sessions with Ms. Kawano in October, and many found that it improved their smiles, said Katsuyo Iwahashi, a city official who oversees public health programs. Works, said. Ms. Iwahashi said the city plans to offer a similar session specifically for mothers with young children, “in motherhood and after the pandemic,” in hopes of helping them smile despite the difficulties they experience. .

Ms. Kawano also conducts one-day certification training for those who want to teach themselves how to smile for 80,000 yen, or about $650.

One of her friends, Rico May, 61, now tells her clients that practicing smiling is important even for people who naturally smile a lot.

“Sometimes, you need to show a nice, professional smile, and people don’t know much about that,” said Ms. May, who lives in Osaka and traveled to Tokyo for the course.

A smile-training course can help people improve their facial expressions and even build self-confidence, said Masami Yamaguchi, a psychologist at Chuo University. Study How do babies see their mother’s facial expressions?

“Intentional muscle movements send signals to your brain and generate positive feelings, even when you’re not feeling happy,” she said.

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