The audience started sniffling well before the end of the first video, a Thai life-insurance commercial titled “Silence of Love,” which revolves around a teenage girl and her deaf father. By the ad’s conclusion, the sniffling had given way to open weeping. Over the next 40 minutes, as a series of ever sadder selections played—animated shorts, movie clips, YouTube memorials for pet cats—the sobs only grew louder.

It was a Saturday night in February, and the people crammed into a small conference room at a mental-health center in northern Tokyo had come for an evening of communal rui-katsu, or “tear seeking.” Hidefumi Yoshida, who was leading the free event, explained that crying clears the mind and reduces stress. “Whether you’ve had a tough time at work, or trouble with a diet, or relationship problems, crying can help you reset,” he told the 20 men and women around me, who ranged from college students to middle-aged office workers.

The first such crying event in Tokyo was organized in 2013 by Hiroki Terai, a former salesman who had previously launched a successful business conducting cathartic (though unofficial) divorce ceremonies. After watching his clients shed tears and then leave on better terms, he got the idea to start hosting rui-katsu events. “I realized that people cannot cry unless they make a conscious effort,” he told the newspaper The Asahi Shimbun.

The response to early sessions was overwhelmingly positive. “Rui-katsu isn’t like crying alone in my room. I don’t feel depressed after crying here,” a 23-year-old woman explained to The Asahi Shimbun. Today, sessions are held all across Tokyo, and similar events have sprung up in Nagoya and Osaka; people throughout the country have also taken to sharing online lists of songs and video clips sure to get the tears flowing. As for Terai, he has gone on to write a series of books about crying, most recently Ikemeso Danshi, which features photos of attractive men sobbing.

Rui-katsu seems to be popular not because Japanese people are big criers, but precisely because they aren’t. Data from the International Study on Adult Crying suggest that, of the 37 nationalities polled, the Japanese are among the least likely to cry. (Americans, by contrast, are among the most likely.) “Hiding one’s anger and sadness is considered a virtue in Japanese culture,” a Japanese psychiatrist told the newspaper Chunichi Shimbun in 2013.

Consider the case of Ryutaro Nonomura, the provincial politician who last year began wailing nonsensically and pounding his fists at a press conference. The video of his crying jag went viral, with Japanese Internet users energetically mocking him in a series of Photoshopped pictures and remixed videos depicting (among other things) his head grafted onto a baby’s body. “He looked like a spoiled child,” Terai explained in a piece for the Web site Nikkei Woman Online. “He broke the number-one rule of not crying as an adult.”