On Humour

When foreign people are asked to give a lightning impression of the British, many of them mention ‘mania for dogs, the gentleman ideal, honesty in politics and something called a sense of humour’. Then they go on to give individual opinions. Frenchmen say that Englishmen are crude and cold, and I have heard Japanese call us yabottai (unrefined) and also cold. Russians wonder why the English are always complaining, like Russian farmers.

As to the dog mania, I admit that it is true. Often British people say to me: ‘What are Japanese people really like? I have talked to some Japanese, and they were all very serious’.

You forget that they had to use a foreign language to talk to you’, I would tell them. ‘They wanted to get their English sentences right—that is why they were serious. You would be serious if you had to talk to them in Japanese: they would be making jokes, and you would be silent’.

Then I go on to tell them about Hachiko11 and the statue of Saigo with his dog. When they hear that, British people warm to the Japanese.

Now, however, I want to say something about the famous British sense of humour. Of course, individuals in every nation have it, but in Britain it is a national characteristic. Perhaps you will be surprised to hear that it is a form of bravery.

There are many kinds of bravery. But I believe that both Japanese and British respect calm bravery more than shouting swagger. The calm hero rises above the present danger: he meets it but without inner agitation. Wonderful! But the sense of humour adds something more to calm bravery: it finds laughter even in the danger or difficulty.