Performativity of Japanese laughter

Mio Bryce, Hanae Katayama

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Laughter is a complicated and highly sensitive human activity, implying ambivalent elements, such as spontaneity and performativity, innocence and tactics. It can elicit simply cheerful ambience but also facilitate powerful victimisation by provoking embarrassment of the target. Humoristic discourses are often heavily culture-specific in terms of the text and the situation wherein they are expressed. This is particularly true with Japanese humour, due to the insular and circumstantial nature of the language (e.g., Toyama, 1976) and the way communicative protocols are executed. This paper will examine manzai (Japanese stand-up comedy) and explore Japanese laughter, paying a particular attention to their performativity. Our discussions include the essential characteristics of laughter and humour and their social-cultural and psychological background (Benedict, 1946; Hibbett, 1998-2005; Kawai, 2005, Kitayama, 1993; Kotthoff, 1996; Norrick, 1993, 2001, 2004; Oda, 1986; Raskin, 1985; Sakuta, 1967; Schmitz, 2002; Umehara, 1972). Our hypothesis is that Japanese comical discourses are highly performative and staged, either physically or imaginably, installing the readers/audiences in a voyeuristic perspective, often as an accomplice of one of the participants of the humoristic performance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-131
Number of pages7
JournalInternational journal of the humanities
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Copyright Common Ground and The Authors. Article originally published in The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Number 9, pp. 125-131. This version archived on behalf of the author and is available for individual, non-commercial use. Permission must be sought from the publisher to republish or reproduce or for any other purpose.


  • laughter
  • humor
  • performativity
  • manzai
  • manga
  • anime
  • Japanese language and culture


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