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Japanese Folk Humor

Japanese Folk Humor

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Japanese
Folk
Humor
FANNY
HAGIN
/~AYER
Whittier,
CA
A
serious study of humor may appear to be anomalous and its resultsa little difficult to gauge without canned laughter or fl'lsh cards callingfor audience response, but it is time for a Japanologist to give his at-tention to humor anlong Japanese. As a starting point or hypothesisin the present study,
I
propose to take the statement of Yanagita Icunio
+4PmB%
n his
Warai no hongan
%U.~IL$.W
[The need for laughter],
"
the Japanese are a people who laugh a lot."l The question is whatmakes the Japanese laugh with anything from a chuckle to belly laughter.Taking some aspects of humor covered by Yanagita in
Waraino hongan
as a basis, I propose to examine folk humor as categorizedin two reference works on Japanese folk tales,
Nihon nzukashiba?lashimeii
13
$+$;fi&f,
compiled under the supervision of Yanagita, (Yanagita1948) and
Nihon mukashibanashi shzisei
B
$%
fa,6$&hk
by Seki Keigo
W@jjz
Seki 1950-58). Then I will identify some of the themes inthose three works which are found among tales recited in four one-narrator collcctions of Japanese folk tales.3
I
am not attempting topresent a chapbook of humor, but just
a
few stories which common,ordinary Japanese laugh over.Yanagita gathered together six of his published articles on laughterinto
Warai no hongan
in December of 1945, but he could not publishit until the following year. The latest item,
"
Onna no egao
"
&o%,'JJ
[A
woman's smile], had been written in 1943 when stresses due toWorld War Two were building up, making the woman's role of main-taining calm and pleasantness in the home increasingly difficult. Ifone reflects upon the circumstances facing Japan at the time the bookwas published, one must salute the courage with which the aging Yanagi-ta, then seventy-two years old, was helping restore normalcy to thespirit of his countrymen.
 
188
FANNY HAGIN MAYER
Yanagita pointed in
Warai no hongan
to the tradition in Japan thatdeities gathered around Ama no Iwado
x6p
("
The heavenly rockcave
")
to draw out the secluded Amaterasu-no-6-mikarni
A!%Ai~l~tttl
from the cave by their laughter. Enma-6
HI%L,
King of Hell, is repre-sented with a smile on his face in spite of his fierce posture. Even Yama-no-kami
O+$J
mountain deity) can be amused by ritualistic laughter infolk faith when an
okoze,
a small dried fish, is displayed to her. Yanagitahad written about that ritual in
1950.3
One can conclude that laughterhas its place in religious tradition, including folk faith, in Japan.Yanagita referred in
Warai no hongan
to the laughter of men onthe battlefield in their attempt to keep up their courage and to inflictdistress upon their enemies. A number of folk tales concern the humorof profitless imitation. They are a means of training the young inJapan by pointing out to them the failure of imitation. Discipline ofchildren is based upon their fear of being laughed at. Brief, humoroussayings, some found in folk tales, are also used to teach traditionalwisdom." It would be hard to decide which came first, the story orthe saying, but their relationship is obvious.It is not necessary to enumerate humorous tales such as those in
Konjaku monogatari-shzi
+%%&A
or
Ujishzii monogatari
+=lfie&#~ig
to illustrate the taste in Japanese humor found in old literary works.Yanagita mentions the Japanese art cultivated from long ago of matchingsimilar sounds in words with different meanings, a sort of sport withhomonyms. It was evident in some of the poems of the
Man'y6shzj
J?&%
and reached its height
of
refinement in
haiku
#Fl.
Namesinvented in folk tales, also, are enjoyed for their humorous sound, suchas Kitchyii, Kichigo, and Kitchyornu. 'I'hese are especially popularin humorous tales collected in Iiyiishii.An examinatio~i
iT
the tcvo reference works on folk tales showsthat Ya iagita and Sehi sct up different categories for humorous tales.Yanagita did not include all the themes he presented in
Wavai no hongan
in
Waraibanashi
7;0,6
("
humorous tales
")
in his
Meii.
A
numberof them were in the category of
Chie no hatavaki
S;~&U>#J$
("
clever-ncss at work
").
Some of the Kitchyii, Kichigo, Kitchyomu charactersare found there. Along with them is the little novice in the
Osh6 tokoz6
.fu(Aj
2
/J\lT)
("
the priest and his novice
")
group.The novicemay outsmart the priest or stupidly follow directions to the letter, thepriest being the dupe either way. Humorous stories about foxes andbadgers may be in that category or in
DB~U~SUo enjo
@J$?JO@~J
"
helpfrom animals
")
or in
Bakemono banashi
It;%Bir;
("
ghost stories
").
Those animals have the power to transform themselves to play trickson people or on each other. Outwitting a
tengu
xa
o get his magic
 
JAPANESE
FOLK
HUhlOR
189
invisible sedge hat and cloak is also considered to be a clever feat.One more type of clever story is about judgments.Yanagita divided his
Waraibanashi
into
Obanashi
-);,;A
("
exag-gerations
"),
Mane sokonai
~{U#L
"
profitless imitation
"),
and
Oroka mura banashi
!F:.f,,",5
"
tales of foolish villages
").
The mostpopular stories in the third division seem to be about simplctons, suchas the foolish son-in-law who does not know how to behave when visitinghis in-laws.
A
rumor still circulates in Japan that there is a whole villageof fools, and a real place name is used for it. If one were to go thereto inquire, he would likely hear tales about a foolish village elsewhere.There are also stories about country folk who venture to cities to lookfor work or to go on pilgrimages. They are befuddled over mannersobserved or signs which they cannot read. 'l'hey illustrate the uni-versal link of dilemma or pathos to humor.To be sure,
waisetszi
B@
("
obscenities
")
exist in Japan as wellas elsewhere, but good taste bars such tales froin being published.Yanagita lists types of obscene stories in the dialect of several regions,but he does not go into detail. Alizusawa Iien'ichi
7]<$:i@--
has ac-cumulated a number of such stories, for he sets down all that a narratorshares with him, but I have heard him say that he is still undecidedabout how to dispose of such stories.Seki names Part Three of his
Shzisei Waraibanashi mukashibanashi
Xz&gzh
("
humorous folk tales
").
Vol. I of Part Three is dividedinto
Orokabito tan
,@$A3
"
stories about foolish people
")
and
Koch6tan
:$Gzi$
("
exaggerations
").
T'olume I1 of Part Three has in it
Kochi tan
15@2i$
("
stories of cleverness
"),
aillong which the littlenovice is presented, and
K6katsu mono
@I@$
("
tricky characters
").
Seki writes in his Introduction to Part 'Three, Vol.
I
that ordinary tales,also, can be amusing in the way they are told.Yanagita's
Meii
and Seki's
Shusei
both draw upon pre-WorldWar Two source material and handle it in the same way by geographicaldistribution of a tale-type, published source, brief notes, and references.Yanagita's work, however, is highly selective, kept within the limitsof a single volume. Seki's six volumes were published when papershortages were less severe, and Part Three contains references to storiesreported in post-World WarTwo collections.SKETCHES
OR
A
SMILE
The reader is not supposed to have been ainused up to this point.Hemay be even slightly bored, but there is still some introductory in-formation which he should have before sampling folk humor. Theone-narrator collections of tales were made by n'Iizusa\r-a Iien'ichi in

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