Laughing in Japanese

There are many ways to describe laughter in Japanese.

笑う (warau) is to main verb “to laugh”. It can also mean to smile, depending on the context.

There are many more phrases to express laughter or smiling in Japanese, and many use the same 笑 Kanji character.

Note that not all of these phrases are used in everyday conversation in Japan. I found most of these phrases in famous Japanese literature, but in pieces that were written at least 40 years ago.

Most of the vocabulary here I came cross while reading 走れメロス (hashire merosu) by Dazai Osamu. Which, by the way, is an extremely cool story. If you read Japanese from time to time, slug through it, it’s worth it!

Laughing in Japanese:

思い出し笑い (omoidashiwarai) smile reminiscently (to laugh or smile to yourself about a memory)

憫笑 (binshou) to smile with pity

嘲笑 (choushou) a scornful laugh

ほくそ笑む (hokusoemu) to chuckle to onseself

せせら笑い (seserawarai) mocking sneer

 (nakiwarai) a tearful smile; half laughing, half sobbing

微笑 (bishou) a slight smile

にやにや笑う (niyaniya warau) to smirk; to smile ironically

せせら笑う (sesera warau) to laugh mockingly

腹を抱えて笑う (hara wo kakaete warau) one’s sides shake with laughter; to be convulsed with laughter; split a gut.

膝が笑う (hiza ga warau) literally, “knees are laughing”. But this actually has nothing to do with laughter. It is when your legs get tired from walking or running to much and your legs start to wobble and give out.

Also, around the internet you might see (笑) or www used as we use “lol” in English netspeak.

Have a happy day!

– Harvey


  • Harvey – I used 爆笑 a lot on the internet. It seems to be a decent swap for a stronger “LOL” – only less annoying. Ha ha.

  • Hey, i learned in my japanese Lessons also ゲラゲラ笑う. It’s loud laughing from many people.

  • So far I mainly used warau, so thank you for this great list!

  • A couple that I remember from the novel I’m reading now:

    苦笑 (くしょう): bitter smile
    くぐもった笑い: muffled laugh

  • Thanks for the additions! I can’t believe I forgot to list 爆笑! I even say that a lot in my everyday speech. I’ll edit these into the original post once we get a few more :-) Thanks!
    I had never heard くぐもった笑い, good stuff!

  • i’ve gone back to running after 1 month break. My knees are laughing at me all the time.

  • I’m glad to see this post. I’ve seen the “w” or “www
    ” a lot around, but I could never figure out what it stood for. Thanks for the post.

  • Hello,

    I subscribe your blog and it’s very fun/interesting
    to read them. How do you say “Warai-jougo” in English?
    I have a question about these words below.
    Thrive / flourish / prosper .
    It’s great if you help me to understand what the differences among these.

  • Nice list! I was actually investigating one of those and now I’m surprised that there are these many. Definitely much more expressive than LOL in English :)