When you’re stressed out at work, is there anything as cathartic (albeit maybe not ideal for an office setting) as a good cry? Well, what about turning on the waterworks, and then having a sympathetic hot guy gently dab away your tears? For the Japanese working woman, this fantasy scenario is a phone call — and approximately $62 — away. Launched in the fall of 2015, Ikemeso Danshi (rough translation: Weeping Hotties) is a for-profit service that dispatches handsome men to Tokyo-area workplaces to lead employees in a collective crying ritual designed to alleviate tension. More than 25 offices have used the service so far, says founder Hiroki Terai, an entrepreneur whose business ventures typically border on the conceptual. He’s the man behind a service that performs cathartic divorce ceremonies for uncoupling Japanese couples, and a wave of popular group stress-relief events where participants gather to watch tear-jerking movies and cry it out together. It was during the course of one of these ruikatsu, or tear-seeking events, that Terai says he was struck by the potentially comforting effect of seeing a grown man cry. In February, he released a photo book of blubbering male models. Perhaps it’s the surprising vulnerability of an adult male in tears that makes them attractive to some Japanese women. That’s the reason that Mitsue Kujime, director of a Tokyo music video production company Rocket Japan, recently hired one of Ikemeso Danshi’s “licensed professional tear therapists” to visit her office. “[My female employees] work in the same harsh shooting conditions as men, but they aren’t treated gently, just because they are women. They’re not allowed to cry in the field,” says Kujime. “So when I heard that there was a service where handsome men would come and wipe your tears, I thought the female staff would be delighted.” The result? Kujime says her employees found their gallant hottie to be “cool, polite, soft, and lovely.” Ikemeso Danshi’s dreamboats come in six varieties: the “younger brother," the “mature face of the Showa-era" (i.e. a DILF), the metrosexual “Mr. Tokyo,” the “intellectual,” the “rebel,” and the “sweet dentist.” All have a sensitive demeanor appropriate for facilitating the flow of tears during an office visit that begins with a viewing of one of six short tearjerker films, including one about “the bonds of a puppy” produced by Terai, who searches the globe for touching content. “I’m the best in the world at knowing what will make you cry,” he says.
As the film plays, the Ikemeso Danshi therapist typically sheds a few tears himself, while encouraging his clients to do the same. When the whole office is in tears, the therapist gets out his handkerchief and attends to the ladies. “At first I was embarrassed,” says Kujime, “but after the people next to me burst into tears, I was also naturally moved to cry.” The result for her staff was a collective release: “We shed so many tears, so we felt really refreshed!” An unfavorable view of sobbing at work certainly isn’t limited to Japan, but many claim the nation’s group-oriented society places higher value on cohesion than individual opinion — which may add to the burden of emotional restraint, says Terai. Still, crying shouldn’t be shameful: “Because we Japanese don’t talk about our true intentions very much, we often end up suppressing our own feelings,” he adds. That's a missed opportunity, if you ask Terai. He cites Toho University School of Medicine professor emeritus Hideo Arita, whose work guides the Ikemeso Danshi technique. According to Arita, who also runs a “Serotonin Dojo” for stress management, empathy is activated in the prefrontal cortex. When our hearts are stirred by a tear-jerking drama or book, our involuntary empathetic response (i.e. crying) acts like a sort of reset for the brain, and we experience a healing effect. Indeed, rather than tears of sorrow, Kujime of Rocket Japan says that the ones shed at her office were the kind that well up when you feel moved, or when you think about someone you love. She and her staff found the experience “very meaningful,” she says, and are grateful to Ikemeso Danshi for providing an opportunity to cry. “Because the cost of the service is quite low, I’d like to do it again,” she adds. In the vein of Japan’s hostess bars, maid cafes, and cuddle therapists, Ikemeso Danshi commodifies human intimacy in what is often viewed by outsiders as a culture of isolated and repressed workaholics. But Terai says his company’s aim is actually to bring people together. When one of his ikemen shows up at the office, it lightens the atmosphere. And when co-workers can cry together, “a new level of communication is born from this glimpse of one another’s original, authentic self.” As Terai puts it, “even scary bosses have unexpectedly cute crying faces.”