Humor and Laughter in Japanese Business Meetings

  • Kazuyo Murata
Part of the Communicating in Professions and Organizations book series (PSPOD)


The present study explores the manifestations of humor and laughter in business meetings in three different workplaces in Japan, employing Communities of Practice (CofP) and Relational Practice as the conceptual frameworks. The key findings of the qualitative analysis include that (1) during an “on-stage” or official phase, where participants are acting based on their meeting roles, those who are in authority or in charge of the interaction or meeting initiated the humor, and other members added to it with humorous utterances and/or responded with laughter; (2) during an “off-stage” or unofficial phase, those who are not in authority also instigated humor; and (3) there are many occurrences of laughter that are not associated with humor but rather serve to defuse tension.



This study was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 15K02538 and 24652088. I appreciate those who allowed their business meetings to be recorded.


  1. Angouri, Jo, and Meredith Marra, eds. 2012. Constructing Identities at Work. Houndmills/New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  2. Apte, Mahadev. 1985. Humor and Laughter. An Anthropological Approach. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Backhaus, Peter. 2009. Politeness in Institutional Elderly Care in Japan: A Cross-Cultural Comparison. Journal of Politeness Research 5: 54–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown, Reva B., and Dermont Keegan. 1999. Humor in the Hotel Kitchen. Humor 12 (1): 47–70.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, Penelope, and Stephen Levinson. 1987. Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Cook, Haruko Minegishi. 2008. Style Shifts in Japanese Academic Consultations. In Style Shifting in Japanese, ed. Kimberly Jones and Tsuyoshi Ono, 9–38. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Eckert, Penelope, and Sally McConnell-Ginet. 1999. New Generalizations and Explanations in Language and Gender Research. Language in Society 28 (2): 185–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fletcher, Joyce K. 1999. Disappearing Acts: Gender, Power, and Relational Practice at Work. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  9. Geyer, Naomi. 2010. Teasing and Ambivalent Face in Japanese Multi-Party Discourse. Journal of Pragmatics 42 (8): 2120–2130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Glenn, Phillip. 2003. Laughter in Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hayakawa, Haruko. 2003. “The Meaningless Laughter”: Laughter in Japanese Communication. Unpublished PhD, University of Sydney, Australia.Google Scholar
  12. Holmes, Janet. 2000. Politeness, Power and Provocation: How Humour Functions in the Workplace. Discourse Studies 2 (2): 159–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. ———. 2006. Gendered Talk at Work: Constructing Gender Identity Through Workplace Discourse. New York/Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Holmes, Janet, and Meredith Marra. 2002a. Having a Laugh at Work: How Humour Contributes to Workplace Culture. Journal of Pragmatics 34: 1683–1710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. ———. 2002b. Over the Edge? Subversive Humor Between Colleagues and Friends. Humor 15 (1): 65–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. ———. 2004. Relational Practice in the Workplace: Women’s Talk or Gendered Discourse? Language in Society 33: 377–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Holmes, Janet, and Stephanie Schnurr. 2005. Politeness, Humor and Gender in the Workplace: Negotiating Norms and Identifying Contestation. Journal of Politeness Research 1: 121–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Holmes, Janet, and Maria Stubbe. 2003. Power and Politeness in the Workplace. A Sociolinguistic Analysis of Talk at Work. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  19. Holmes, Janet, Maria Stubbe, and Bernadette Vine. 1999. Constructing Professional Identity: “Doing Power” in Policy Units. In Talk, Work and Institutional Order: Discourse in Medical, Mediation and Management Settings, ed. S. Sarangi and C. Roberts, 351–385. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Holmes, Janet, Meredith Marra, and Bernadette Vine. 2011. Leadership, Ethnicity, and Discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mullany, Louise. 2004. Gender, Politeness and Institutional Power Roles: Humour as a Tactic to Gain Compliance in Workplace Business Meetings. Multilingua 23: 13–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. ———. 2007. Gendered Discourse in the Professional Workplace. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Murata, Kazuyo. 2005. Ibogowasha gurupu kaiwa ni mirareru “warai” no bunseki: poraitonesu no kanten kara [Laughter in Intercultural Conversations from a Politeness Perspective]. In The JASS (Japanese Association of Sociolinguistic Sciences) 15th Conference. Waseda University, Tōkyō, Japan.Google Scholar
  24. ———. 2009. Laughter for Defusing Tension: Examples from Business Meetings in Japanese and in English. In New Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence: JSAI2008 Conference and Workshops Asahikawa, Japan, June 2008 Revised Selected Paper, ed. H. Hattori et al., 294–305. Heidelberg: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. ———. 2015. Relational Practice in Meeting Discourse in New Zealand and Japan. Tōkyō: Hituzi Syobo.Google Scholar
  26. Murata, Kazuyo, and Motoko Hori. 2007. Functions of Laughter in Intercultural Communication: An Analysis of Laughter as a Communicative Strategy. Journal of the Socio-Cultural Research Institute, Ryūkoku University 9: 115–124.Google Scholar
  27. Pizzini, Franca. 1991. Communication Hierarchies in Humour: Gender Differences in the Obstetrical/Gynaecological Setting. Discourse and Society 2 (4): 477–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Saito, Junko. 2011. Managing Confrontational Situations: Japanese Male Superiors’ Interactional Styles in Directive Discourse in the Workplace. Journal of Pragmatics 43 (6): 1689–1706.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schnurr, Stephanie. 2005. Leadership and Humour. An Analysis of Workplace Discourse. Unpublished PhD, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.Google Scholar
  30. ———. 2009a. Constructing Leader Identities Through Teasing at Work. Journal of Pragmatics 41: 1125–1138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. ———. 2009b. Leadership Discourse at Work: Interactions of Humour, Gender and Workplace Culture. Basingstoke/Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Schnurr, Stephanie, and Angela Chan. 2009. Politeness and Leadership Discourse in New Zealand and Hong Kong: A Cross-Cultural Case Study of Workplace Talk. Journal of Politeness Research 5 (2): 131–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wenger, Etienne. 1998. Communities of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Westwood, Robert, and Carl Rhodes. 2007. Humour, Work and Organization. London: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kazuyo Murata
    • 1
  1. 1.Ryūkoku UniversityKyōtoJapan

Personalised recommendations