People in Japan who grew accustomed to hiding their faces during the pandemic are enrolling in a training session to learn how to smile once again.
Although face masks were previously widely used in the East Asian nation before COVID by many people to treat seasonal ailments and hay fever, their usage increased dramatically once it became official government advice to wear them during the worst of the outbreak.
Since the virus first appeared more than three years ago, many people have not been seen in public without a mask.
With the government having finally lifted its recommendation to wear masks in March, Himawari Yoshida was among those who realised they had rather forgotten how to go about life without them, Sky News reported.
"I hadn't used my facial muscles much during COVID," said the 20-year-old.
She has now hired a "smile instructor," claiming that it is "good exercise" and would help her get ready to enter the job market in Japan.
Yoshida and her classmates, mainly young people, are being instructed by Keiko Kawano, who asks them to hold up mirrors to their faces while stretching the sides of their lips with their fingers during one exercise.
Moreover, demand for classes at Kawano's company, Egaoiku, which translates to "Smile Education," has increased by a factor of four. One-on-one lessons cost 7,700 yen (£44).
"I think there's a growing need for people to smile," she said, highlighting the rising number of visitors coming back to the island.
She believes Japanese nationals are less inclined to smile than Westerners because of their sense of security as an island country, a trend only exacerbated by a rise in mask wearing, the report said.
"Culturally, a smile signifies that I'm not holding a gun, and I'm not a threat to you," she added.
An NHK study, a public broadcaster, conducted in May found that only 8% of Japanese people had completely quit wearing masks, while 55% continued to do so on a regular basis.
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