The ‘handsome weeping boys’ paid to wipe away your tears

  • Published
  • Japanese companies hire people to make staff cry
  • Employees watch sad films while a "handsome weeping boy" wipes away their tears
  • It is supposed to help people bond

There are about 10 of us sitting in a conference room in an office block in Tokyo and a man has just put on a selection of film clips.

As the music blares from tinny-sounding speakers, a heart-rending story about a deaf man and his daughter begins. The daughter is struck down with a terrible illness and is rushed to hospital. The man, unable to communicate that he is her father, is not allowed past the reception desk. The film ends with him crying inconsolably as she dies alone.

As the second film - about a fatally ill dog - starts, I hear a muffled sob from the other side of the room. Minutes later, there are some loud sniffing noises to my right. Within 15 minutes, half of the room is staring at the screen, tears streaming down their faces.

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Hear Emily Webb's report on Japan's "handsome weeping boys" for Outlook on BBC World Service on BBC iPlayer Radio

The man showing the films begins to walk around and, with a large cotton handkerchief, softly wipes the tears from people's faces. He diligently refolds the handkerchief for each person to offer them a dry patch.

"When I started running these workshops, there were some quite awkward moments," the man with the handkerchief, Ryusei, tells me. He has model good looks and is taking his tear-wiping role very seriously.

"I wasn't practised enough and so couldn't cry easily and this would mean the audience couldn't cry either. But it's much better now, I can cry and so others follow."

Image caption,
Ryusei wipes away the tears of a weeping woman

His job title is somewhat unusual: ikemeso danshi, or "handsome weeping boy". He runs sessions with the sole purpose of making people cry.

"Japanese are not used to crying in front of people. But once you cry in front of others, the environment will change, particularly in a business."

The idea is to show off your vulnerability - when others see that, it's supposed to bring people together so they work better as a team.

Most of the films he plays focus on ill pets or father-daughter relationships, and appear to be targeted at women. I'm told that anyone can come along but today, all but one of the attendees are female. The sole man is the company boss who arranged the session.

Companies can choose from a selection of handsome weeping boys. One is a trained dentist who does this as a sideline, while others play the part of a gymnast, a funeral director or shoe shiner.

Today's facilitator, Ryusei, is known as a "good-looking-but-slightly-older weeping boy" - the others are in their 20s while he is nudging 40.

In Tokyo, other companies have launched similar projects. Non-sexual cuddling sessions and rent-a-friend services are already available in town.

The crying workshops were Hiroki Terai's idea - he's a businessman determined to get Japanese people to express their emotions, "I have always been interested in the hidden sagas of human beings," he says.

Image caption,
Crying workshop founder Hiroki Terai: "I want Japanese people to cry"

It all began when he was 16. With no friends at school, Hiroki ate his lunch in a toilet cubicle, alone. It was a difficult time: "It was around then I feel I started to find out more about people's real emotions - on the surface they're smiling but that's not always how they feel.

His first project was running divorce ceremonies for couples whose marriages have broken down, "The climax of the ceremony is crushing the wedding ring with a hammer." The couples said that crying was the most cathartic moment. Hiroki therefore decided to set up a crying business in 2013. It started with workshops open to everyone in Tokyo.

"People would come and cry together. When they cried they said they felt really good afterwards," he says. "The only problem was the perception of crying men. People thought they were weepy or wimps."

Hiroki's solution? Crying workshops led by handsome men. He wanted to bring the image of crying men into the mainstream while using those men to make other people cry.

I asked him why the men have to be good looking. He shrugs his shoulders, "I think it's because it's so different to daily life," he says. "It's exciting."

People can be surprised by their own response to the films. "I thought I wouldn't cry," Terumi confesses - she's a comedian who's making a documentary about the session. "But I really cried a lot."

It was the clips about father and daughter that got her: "My father's still alive but I'm over 30 years old… still now, I sometimes don't behave well towards my father," she laughs, nervously. "I started to regret that."

Not everyone is so moved, though. With a conspiratorial glance over her shoulder, Uria, an employee at the office, asks: "Is it ok to tell the truth?" I assure her she can. "Honestly I'm not interested in this kind of movie. I think there were five or six movies, so many people died. I don't like it! I don't think that's moving. I was not moved."

The whole premise of Hiroki's business is the idea that Japanese people don't cry enough. I wonder if this is a stereotype, but most of today's attendees seem to agree.

"Japanese people are not really good at expressing their emotions." Terumi tells me. "People working at companies don't express their opinions or feelings too much."

And it is this that drives Hiroki, the company's founder. "I want Japanese people to cry," he says with real animation. "Not only at home but in the office. If you cry at work [you think] your co-workers will not want to touch you - there's a really negative image.

"But I know that after you cry and let people see your vulnerability, you can get along even better with people which is also good for the company. It creates a better working environment and people get along better."

As I leave, I reflect on a surreal evening. Did I cry? No. However, if I had been able to focus on the films, I think I might have done. Instead, I was creeping around the back of the room trying to record crying noises for my radio report. Not too conducive to a good sob.

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