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					Saturday, 10:00-16:30
Sala Rossa
Session: National Forms of Humour (Don & Alleen Nilsen)




 USE OF FOREIGN JOKES IN JAPAN FROM CHINA, AMERICA, FRANCE, AND
                        OTHER COUNTRIES

           Heiyo Nagashima, Japan Society for Laughter and Humor Studies,
                         Shikitu-nishi, Naniwa-ku, Japan
                                warai@x.age.ne.jp


There have been three waves where there was an increase in the prevalence of foreign
jokes being used in Japan. The first occurred during the latter half of the 18th century,
when Chinese jokes were introduced. At that time, Japanese people were beginning to
form their own jokes. They published many books of kobanashi (Japanese jokes) and
some Chinese joke books were translated as well. Since ancient times, Japanese culture
has always been greatly influenced by Chinese culture. It is easy to understand how
Chinese jokes gained popularity, because Chinese and Japanese share a writing system
(Chinese characters), whereby Japanese can at least understand the meaning of a
character even without knowing how to pronounce it.
Among those Chinese jokes which Japanese welcomed were those that were concise in
style, those that adhered to strict observation of human nature, and those that employed
logical humor and sharp satire. In incorporating elements of Japanese lives, these jokes
were introduced into rakugo (Japanese storytelling). Some imported Chinese jokes
remain in rakugo even today.
The second wave came from America during the latter half of the 19th century, when
Japan opened the door to the outside world. Fukuzawa Yukichi, who was a famous leader
in Japan at the time, published a joke book titled “Kaiko-Showa,” the meaning of which
is to allow one’s mouth to open with laughter, and in which were jokes from American
newspapers and magazines that his newspaper carried. In this book he wished to
introduce mainly the American way of life and the American way of thinking rather than
mere humor. Japanese readers learned about American culture and lives from these jokes.
They became accustomed to reading jokes and laughing, but never got the point of
verbally sharing them with one another.
The third wave came right in the middle of the 20th century, after the Second World War.
American jokes, French contes and a small number of jokes from other countries entered
Japan. English jokes were blended in with the American ones while Jewish jokes were not
brought up. There were two groups of people who translated these jokes - literature
professors, the so-called “men of culture,” and writers who wished to be novelists
someday. Jokes were mainly carried in magazines, due to newspapers not having the
resources to get hold of such a limited number of jokes, especially with such widespread
poverty. (Newspapers had only 2 pages on normal days.) Jokes were always an addition,
not a main-dish.
For what purpose were Japanese reading foreign jokes? One, jokes allowed them to peek
into “democratic” American lives. Another reason they read them was so they could
enjoy dirty jokes secretly under the guise of “elegance” or “eroticism.” French contes
constituted the latter, but jokes from many countries and races also poured in, such as the
“elegant Chinese joke,” the “erotic Arab joke,” etc. During this time, however, Japanese
people had not gotten into the habit of verbally exchanging jokes with one another,
preferring only to read them.
As new genres, psychologist jokes, political jokes, ethnic jokes, and others gained
popularity. Japanese rakugo and manzai have not been influenced from these new jokes
directly, but the recently popular TV variety shows and short comedies, called “contes,”
have been influenced a great deal.
Simply by chance, it happens that these three waves of increased popularity in foreign
jokes occurred every one hundred years. During a space of three hundred years, Japanese
people incorporated foreign jokes only in part and not holistically. That is, Japanese
people did not take on the habit of telling jokes to one another. This is the distinguishing
feature of Japanese use of foreign jokes. I wish to show concrete examples and discuss
my thoughts the nature of Japanese humor as a part of Japanese culture.

				
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