The face mask that’s meant to show people how happy you are looks rather odd when used in real life.

In a country where masks were widely in use before anyone had ever heard of coronavirus, the current pandemic has encouraged people in Japan to get even more creative with the face coverings, bringing us some innovative new styles like the bra mask, the origami mask, and Talkable-kun, the mask you wear while you eat.

But what do you do when you want everyone to see the smile you’re wearing underneath a mask? Now there’s a mask for that too, thanks to Japanese discount store Takeya, who recently created the “Smile Mask”.

Takeya came up with the idea for the Smile Mask as a way to make their masked employees appear more approachable and friendly. The “Smile Campaign” was launched in conjunction with the introduction of the new mask, where they expressed their desire to “Bring you our smiles through the mask” while asking customers to share the news on social media.

“Smile Campaign. We want to bring you our smiles through the mask! Because of these times, let’s smile!”

Though Takeya employees can be seen wearing the grinning masks while they work, they’re not only for staff, as the company is now selling them for customers to use as well. Needless to say, when our Japanese-language reporter Mr Sato heard the masks could be purchased, he immediately decided this was a mask he needed to own, so he headed out to Takeya straight away.

▼ With a promo video like this, who could resist the urge to wear a smile mask?

When he arrived, Mr Sato found the masks located in a basket right next to the cash register. Available in two types, one featuring a man’s smile (pictured below) and one featuring a woman’s, they were priced at 500 yen (US$4.74) each, plus tax.

500 yen was a small price to pay for a smile, especially for a man who often finds himself too tired to smile at the end of a workday. So Mr Sato happily handed over his money, headed outside and tried the mask on for size.

Um, well…the smile certainly looked natural on its own, but when it met Mr Sato’s face it suddenly looked unnatural and borderline frightening. That could’ve been due to the fact that it puffed out on the sides — which isn’t ideal in terms of pandemic protection — but it was more likely due to the off-putting combination between happy smile and Mr Sato’s tired, soulless eyes.

In terms of use as a mask, this is the type that can be washed repeatedly, and it works better when used with an ordinary face mask underneath, which is how the staff at Takeya wear them. In terms of wow factor, though, this mask is definitely a winner, but Mr Sato wanted to see how the public would react to it, so he took it out for a test run at the busiest place nearby he could think of: a Japanese train station.

While doing crazy stories like these, Mr Sato’s devil-may-care attitude often fools everyone into thinking he thinks he’s invincible. And while he doesn’t bat an eyelid at pole-dancing for strangers, for some reason wearing this mask in front of others had Mr Sato jittery with nerves.

“Isn’t it creepy for an old geezer like me to be smiling like this the whole time? Surely, someone will make a snide remark or even worse, chase me out of the station?”

All kinds of anxious thoughts raced through his head, but Mr Sato managed to calm himself by believing in the power of a smile. Smiles are meant to soften, not harden, the hearts of others, and as he boarded the train, he looked around to see if anyone would return his wide smile.

Sadly, Mr Sato found that most of his fellow passengers were too busy looking at their phones to even notice him. And the few who weren’t fiddling with their phones simply glanced over at him before looking away.

Strangely, this impromptu social experiment made Mr Sato realise three things. Firstly, people are so preoccupied with their phones these days they wouldn’t even notice if there was a crazy man smiling at them through his mask. Secondly, those who did see him but looked away as if they hadn’t noticed him would undoubtedly be relishing in the fact that they now had a funny story to tell their family and friends.

Oh, and lastly — when your eyes are dead and hollow, the smile mask makes you look like you’re slightly unhinged.

After his train ride, Mr Sato was actually surprised that not one person had said anything to him the whole time he was wearing the mask. Nobody smiled at him either, despite the fact that he was wildly grinning at them…on the outside.

And maybe that’s the reason why nobody smiled at him in return — because his soulless eyes made it clear that he wasn’t really smiling at them. So next time he whips out the smile mask on a Japanese train, he’ll be sure to scrunch up his eyes a little, just to make it look like he’s smiling. Because, at the end of the day, even though he might be too tired to smile, Mr Sato really does want to make others happy, even if that means posing in a loincloth for the annual office calendar.

Photos © SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]