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Thread: Do the Japanese lack a sense of humour ?

  1. #1
    (what a tasty dog) A ke bono kane kotto's Avatar
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    Unhappy Do the Japanese lack a sense of humour ?

    Has anyone else felt that the Japanese don't laugh as much as other people (Germans excepted) ? Or is it what they laugh at that is so different ? The "Owarai" (comedy talk show) Tv shows appeal to some very basic sense of humour, like someone slipping on a banana peel or getting a cream tart on his face. I never hear the Japanese make jokes about language or turn things into irony or absurd.

    There is something more fundamental that is missing. I know some Nihonjin who speak very well English (TOEIC score over 800) but they rarely get it when I or other Gaijin friends say something out of derision or in a sarcastic way. They don't get it's a joke, and even when we tell them they have no idea why it's supposed to be (mildly) funny.

    I like turning things into absurdities when I am kidding. For example the other day the weather was really great and we were thinking about what to do that afternoon. I said something like 'it's too bad the weather is so crappy otherwise we could have gone for a walk". That's my way of saying 'why don't we go for a walk' ? It's not a joke, but I like to say things like that in a humorous way just to cheer up the mood. Too bad that it never works with Japanese pals. Some don't get at all that it's just a way of speaking and respond by saying things like 'what are you talking about, the weather is great'. I was expecting an answer like 'yeah, let's go for a walk'. It's just one example out of hundreds. Maybe not a very good one, but that's one I could remember right now.

    I also like to make puns (also in Japanese, as you will have noticed from my username and signature) but they don't get the desired effect on the Japanese. They are immune to a lot of Western humour. (or is it just mine ? )

    The irony is all this is that what the Japanese find funny are things that are so childish and boring (the old cream-tart-in-the-face kind of gag) that I wonder if they have an underdeveloped sense of humour. What makes Japanese adults laugh are things that I found funny when I was 6 years old.

    Japanese society is very formal and serious. Could it be that an excess of seriousness in everyday life stifled the development of their sense of humour, so that, just like Western kids, they laugh at obvious pranks or clown behaviour but don't get more elaborate word plays, witty remarks, banter, hyperboles or understatements ?

    Why is it that Japanese series and films are always dark drama and never comedy ? Where are the Japanese sit-coms ? Is it the Japanese who need to work on their sense of humour, or is it just me who suck at it ?
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  2. #2
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    I don't have enough experience with the Japanese to judge their sense of humor. But I think I see what you mean. The Japanese I know are confused by the use of metaphors. Apparently the Japanese don't use metaphors and not much word play. If they are not familiar with using images in their speech their sense of humor will be considerably different from ours.

    How do you say 'skyscraper' in Japanese ? Very-high-rise building. There is no poetry or imagination in that.

  3. #3
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    Humour is less institutionalised in Japan than in the West. The Japanese don't have a tradition for comedy like the one we got from the Greeks. The Japanese temperament is too anxious and worrying to be comic. Everybody laughts, even babies. There are always things that people will find funny. The Japanese didn't turn comedy into an art. They neglect it as a genre for their own cinematographic productions. Japanese language isn't prone to metaphors, as Merll rightly mentioned. There are too many homonyms for puns to be funny (each sentence could be a pun in Japanese).

    I have a Japanese wife. I can make her laught by turning her sentences into derision by changing the tacit subject of the sentence. Japanese language doesn't require a subject in a sentence, and the Japanese drop it when they think it is obvious. My wife does it often. I usually know what she means but feint not to. She will start a sentence about person X and I will reply as if she was talking about person Y, choosing an unlikely subject to make the feint misunderstanding be as funny as possible.

  4. #4
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    It's weird. Yes, they may find more obtuse, slapstick humour funny (as their TV shows), but there's two things about this:

    First, I think it's due to their language. Most humour in the English language comes from wordplay, and subtle nuance in stories. The Japanese language isn't really equipped to do this, thanks to all the hononyms. This is why a lot of their humour is physical: it requires no explanation, is straightforward and gets the laugh.

    Second, although their humour may be more slapstick and 'childish', I don't think this necessarily means they aren't receptive to more subtle forms of humour. Many's the time I've been with Japanese friends, and we've shared laughs over less obvious forms of humour. I wish I could describe an example but, as well all know, such humour is in the moment and never works when explained. But you get the idea.

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