15 Natural Ways to Say Laugh in Japanese

Don’t you think it’s true that laughter is one of the most important things in our life? Check out this Japanese proverb:  

(Warau kado ni wa fuku kitaru)
Laughter will bring luck. / Fortune comes to those who laugh/smile

Let’s break this down:

  • 笑う (warau): to laugh, to smile
  • 門 (kado): gate –> Normally, this kanji is read as “mon,” but for this proverb, it has a special reading of “kado.”
  • 福 (fuku): luck, happiness
  • 来る (kitaru): to come –> Normally, this is read as “kuru.” It takes the special reading of “kitaru” for this proverb.  

The Standard Way to Say Laugh in Japanese

There are a variety of types of 笑い (warai), or laughter in Japanese, but most of the time, the kanji “笑” is included to express “laughter.” 

You may have noticed onomatopoeia like “ハハハ (hahaha)” being used in Japanese manga or anime. Japanese uses a lot of onomatopoeia to express laughing sounds. Let’s look at some different ways to say laugh in Japanese.  

1. 笑う (Warau): To Laugh, To Smile

This is the standard way to say “laugh” in Japanese. When you want to describe someone laughing normally, this is the word you would use.

However, this word can be confusing to Japanese students. 笑う (warau) can mean either “to laugh” or “to smile.” You need to understand the context of a conversation to know what the correct meaning is. For example, if someone is taking a picture and says “笑って (waratte), it probably means “smile” in this situation.  


(Kanojo wa omoshirokunai jōku demo waraun da.)
She laughs at jokes that aren’t even funny.  

2. 爆笑 (Bakushō): Laughing Hard, To Burst Out Laughing

爆笑 (bakushō) means “to roar with laughter” or to laugh really hard.  

In Japanese manga or anime, it is often expressed by the onomatopoeia “ワハハ (wahaha)” or “ガハハ(gahaha).” 爆笑 (bakushō) is commonly used in daily conversations. 

Technically, 爆笑 describes the roar of laughter from a group or crowd of people. However, it is commonly used to describe just one person (or yourself) laughing a lot.


(Takeshi no jōdan ni minna bakushō shiteita.)
Everyone burst out laughing at his joke. 

 3. 大笑い (Ōwarai): A Lot of Laughter, To Burst Out Laughing

大笑い (ōwarai) means virtually the same thing as 爆笑 (bakushō). You can use it to talk about a crowd of people laughing or just one person.  


(Ken wa owarai bangumi o minagara ōwarai shiteita.)
Ken was laughing out loud watching a comedy show.

4. バカ笑い (Bakawarai): Guffaw

バカ means “an idiot,” so バカ笑い (bakawarai) means “to laugh crazily.” In Japanese manga or anime, it is often expressed by the onomatopoeia “ギャハハ (gyahaha)” or “ゲラゲラ (geragera).”   

It is an expression that includes the nuance of laughing out loud without considering others. This word should not be said to someone older than you or who has a higher social status.

This word can also be written in kanji, like this: 馬鹿笑い (bakawarai).


1. 今日レストランに行ったら、隣の席の人たちが馬鹿笑いをしていて、全く寛げなかった。
(Kyō resutoran ni ittara tonari no seki no hitotachi ga bakawarai o shiteite mattaku kutsurogenakatta.)
When I went to a restaurant today, the people sitting next to me were laughing like crazy, so I couldn’t relax at all.

2. 今日クラスの男子が冗談を言いながらゲラゲラ笑っていた
(Kyō kurasu no danshi ga jōdan o iinagara geragera waratteita.)
Today, boys in my class were laughing so hard while telling jokes.  

5. 高笑い (Takawarai): Loud Laughter

高笑い (takawarai) also means laughing loudly without consideration for others. It seems similar to バカ笑い (bakawarai), but 高笑い (takawarai) is often used when someone is showing off and laughing out loud. In Japanese manga or anime, it is often expressed by the onomatopoeia “オホホホ (ohohoho) for girls or ワハハハ (wahahaha) for men.


1. 京子は昇進したと高笑いをしていた。
(Kyoko wa shōshin shita to takawarai o shiteita.)
Kyoko was laughing loudly about her promotion.  

2. 智子は息子が名門大学に合格したと高笑いをしていた。
(Tomoko wa musuko ga meimondaigaku ni gōkaku shita to takawarai o shiteita.)
Tomoko was laughing loudly when her son got into a prestigious university.

6. 冷笑 (Reishō) / 嘲笑 (Chōshō): To Snicker at Someone

These words are not often used in daily conversation. They are more often found in literature. 冷笑 (reishō) and 嘲笑 (chōshō) both mean to snicker or sneer at someone. Imagine someone laughing at you to make fun of you.  


(Kyō wa minna no mae de daishippai o shite shimatta. Kitto minna kage de watashi no koto o reishō shiteiru ni chigainai.)
I made a blunder in front of everyone. Everyone must be laughing behind my back.

7. 失笑 (Shisshō): Laughter Bursting Out

失う (ushinau) means ” to lose,” so you might think that 失笑 (shisshō): means “no laughter.” However, 失笑 describes a time when you can’t control your laughter.

I’m sure we all had a time when we laughed at something inappropriate. Or maybe you had to try and stop laughing at something but couldn’t. 失笑 describes laughing in both of these situations.


1. 生徒の的外れな返答に、先生は失笑した。
(Seito no matohazure na hentō ni sensei wa shisshō shita.)
The teacher burst out laughing at the student’s irrelevant answer.

2. 日本語弁論大会で失笑をかわないように一生懸命練習に励んだ。
(Nihongo benron taikai de shisshō o kawanai you ni isshōkenmei renshū ni hagenda.)
I practiced hard for the Japanese speech contest so that no one would laugh at me.

8. 照れ笑い (Terewarai): To Make an Embarrassed Smile, Embarrassed Laugh

For some people, it might seem weird, but Japanese often do 照れ笑い (terewarai) to cover their embarrassment. In Japanese manga or anime, it is often expressed by the onomatopoeia へへへ (hehehe) or エヘヘ (ehehe).


1. 皆の前で褒められて、健は照れ笑いをしていた。
(Minna no mae de homerarete ken wa terewarai o shiteita.)
Ken had an embarrassed smile as he was praised in front of everyone.

2. ピアノの発表会で優勝して道子は照れ笑いをした。
(Piano no happyōkai de yūshō shite Michiko wa terewarai o shita.)
Michiko got first prize at her piano recital and made an embarrassed smile

9. 含み笑い (Fukumiwarai): Chuckle to Oneself, A Suppressed Laugh

含む (fukumu) means “to contain” or “to hold in the month.” So 含み笑い (fukumiwarai) means that you hold your 笑い (laughter) in your mouth.

When you do 含み笑い, your mouth is closed, and you try to prevent yourself from laughing out loud. In Japanese manga or anime, it is often expressed by the onomatopoeia プププ (pupupu), ムフフ(mufufu), フフフ(fufufu) or the feminine ウフフ (ufufu).

Typical uses of 含み笑い are when things go unexpectedly well, and you can’t help but laugh, or when you’ve come up with a good idea but you don’t want others to realize it.


1. 佳代子とデートできることになり、健は含み笑いをした。 
(Kayoko to dēto dekiru koto ni nari ken wa fukumiwarai o shita.)
Ken chuckled to himself when it became possible to go on a date with Kayoko.

2. 試験に合格することができたのは、クラスで私ただ一人だけだったことを知って、含み笑いをした。
(Shiken ni gōkaku suru koto ga dekita no wa kurasu de watashi tada hitori dake datta koto o shitte fukumiwarai o shita.)
I chucked to myself when I knew I was the only one who passed the exam in my class.

10. 薄ら笑い (Usurawarai): Smirk, A Faint Smile

People do 薄ら笑い (usurawarai) when they are embarrassed or because they despise someone. Imagine someone giving you a slight smile, where you don’t know if they are happy or bottling up other emotions like embarrassment or anger. Usually, 薄ら笑いis used with a negative meaning.                   

In Japanese manga or anime, it is often expressed by the onomatopoeia へへへ (hehehe) or ヒヒヒ (hihihi).  


1. 大勢の人の前で注意され、健は薄ら笑いを浮かべていた。
(Ōzei no hito no mae de chūi sare, ken wa usurawarai o ukabeteita.)
Ken gave a faint smile as he was reprimanded in front of many people.

2. 私が失敗したのを見て、隆史は薄ら笑いを浮かべながら私を馬鹿にした。
(Watashi ga shippai shita no o mite Takashi wa usurawarai o ukabenagara watashi o baka ni shita.)
When Takashi saw that I made a mistake, he made fun of me with a smirk.  

11. ヘラヘラする (Herahera Suru): Smiling with Indifference / Laughing Like You’re Crazy

ヘラヘラ (herahera) is an onomatopoeia that expresses someone’s attitude when they don’t care about something. This can also describe someone laughing in a way that makes them look foolish or laughing to show that they don’t care. Imagine a jaded employee laughing when their boss lectures them about something serious.  


1. 拓也はいつもヘラヘラしている
(Takuya wa itsumo herahera shiteiru.)
Takuya is always goofing off (doesn’t care about anything).

2. ヘラヘラするな!
(Herahera suru na!)
Don’t laugh like an idiot! / Don’t laugh! (inappropriate laughter)

12. 愛想笑い (Aisowarai): Fake Smile

愛想 (aiso) means “friendliness” or “sociability.” We say “愛想が良い (aiso ga ii)” to describe someone who has good relationships with other people. On the other hand, if someone does not get along with other people well, we say “愛想が悪い (aiso ga warui).” This means that the person is not friendly or sociable. 

愛想笑い (aisowarai) is a fake smile or forced smile. People often do it to maintain good social relationships.


1. 道子は夫から誕生日にぬいぐるみをもらった。本当はぬいぐるみではなく別のものが欲しかったのだが、愛想笑いをしながらありがとうと言った。
(Michiko wa otto kara tanjōbi ni nuigurumi o moratta. Hontō wa nuigurumi dewanaku betsu no mono ga hoshikatta no da ga aisowarai o shinagara arigatō to itta.)
Michiko got a stuffed animal for her birthday from her husband. She wanted something else but put on a fake smile and said “thank you” to her husband anyway.

2. 友達がハワイ旅行のお土産にクッキーをくれた。小麦粉アレルギーなので食べられないが、愛想笑いをしながらありがとうと言った。
(Tomodachi ga Hawai ryokō no omiyage ni kukkī o kureta. Komugiko arerugī nanode taberarenai ga, aisowarai o shinagara arigatō to itta.)
I got some cookies from Hawaii from one of my friends. I can’t eat them because I’m allergic to flour, but I forced a smile and told her, “thank you.”

3. 智子はいつも上司に気を遣って愛想笑いばかりしている。
(Tomoko wa itsumo jōshi ni ki o tsukatte aisowarai bakari shiteiru.)
Tomoko is always considerate of her boss and smiles amiably (but still forcing her smile).

13. もらい笑い (Moraiwarai): Infectious Laugh

 もらう (morau) means “to receive,” so もらい笑い (moraiwarai) means you receive laughter from others.

I’m sure you’ve had times when you started to laugh because people around you were laughing first. This is what もらい笑い (moraiwarai) describes.  


1. クラスの友達が笑っているのを見ていたら、私までもらい笑いをしてしまった。
(Kurasu no tomodachi ga waratteiru no o miteitara watashi made moraiwarai o shiteshimatta.)
When I saw my classmates laughing, I started to laugh too.

2. テレビを見ながら大笑いしている子供を見ていたら、もらい笑いをしてしまった。
(Terebi o minagara ōwarai shiteiru kodomo o miteitara moraiwarai o shiteshimatta.)
When I saw a child laughing out loud while watching TV, I laughed too.  

14. 思い出し笑い (Omoidashiwarai): Remember Something Funny

思い出す (omoidasu) means “to recall.” So 思い出し笑い (omoidashiwarai) happens when you remember something funny and start laughing because of that. In Japanese manga or anime, it is often expressed by the onomatopoeia “ククク (kukuku),” “プププ (pupupu)” or “クスクス (kusukusu).”

Example Conversation:  

智子: 会議中、一人でクスクス笑ってたでしょ。どうしたの?
Tomoko: (Kaigichū hitori de kusukusu waratteta desho? Dōshita no?)
Tomoko: You were laughing alone during the meeting, weren’t you? What happened? 

道子:  思い出し笑いしちゃったのよ。
Michiko: (Omoidashiwarai shichatta no yo.)
Michiko: I remembered something funny (and laughed).

智子: 何を思い出したの?
Michiko: (Nani o omoidashita no?)
Michiko: What did you remember?

道子: 実は今朝、変な髪型をした人を見かけてね。それがね・・・プププ・・
Michiko: (Jitsu wa kesa hen na kamigata o shita hito o mikakete ne. Sore ga nepupupu…)
Michiko: Actually, I saw someone with a strange hairstyle this morning. It was like…hehe…

智子: また思い出し笑いしてるの?!やめてよ! もらい笑いしちゃうじゃない!
Tomoko: (Mata omoidashiwarai shiteru no?! Yamete yo! Moraiwarai shichau janai!)
Tomoko: Are you laughing again?! Stop it! You have an infectious laugh!

15. クスクス笑う: Giggle

“クスクス (kusukusu)” is an onomatopoeia used when someone is laughing in a way not to bring attention to themselves. Imagine a girl giving a soft giggle with a hand over her mouth. It is common to see this type of laugh in Japanese manga or anime.


1. 智也があまりにも音痴だったので、皆クスクス笑い出した。
(Tomoya ga amarinimo onchi datta node minna kusukusu warai dashita.)
Tomoya was a terrible singer, so everyone started giggling.

 2. 校長先生が滑って転んだのを見て、生徒はクスクス笑い出した。
(Kōchō sensei ga subette koronda no o mite seito wa kusukusu warai dashita.)
The students saw the principal slip and fall, so they started to giggle.

 笑う (Warau): Laugh or Smile?

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, 笑う (warau) can also mean “smile” in Japanese. When native Japanese speakers hear the word “笑う,” most would imagine someone laughing out loud.  

If someone is smiling, we use the word “微笑む(hohoemu),” “ニコニコする(nikoniko suru)” or “にっこりする (nikkori suru)” in Japanese. 

Do you know the famous picture “La Gioconda” painted by Leonardo Da Vinci? The lady in the picture is not laughing, but smiling, so we call that picture “モナリザの微笑み (Monariza no hohoemi).” It means Mona Lisa’s smile.

The kanji character “微” means “very small” or “weak,” so 微笑む means to give a slight smile (without laughing). The word 微笑む is usually used in literature. 

In daily conversations, it is more natural to say ニコニコする(nikoniko suru) or にっこりする (nikkori suru). ニコニコ or にっこり express the state of smiling happily or joyfully.


1. 母は子供たちの寝顔を見ながら微笑んだ。(Written Japanese)
(Haha wa kodomotachi no negao o minagara hohoenda.)
A mother smiled while looking at her children’s sleeping face.

2a. 道子はいつも微笑んでいる。(Written Japanese)
(Michiko wa itsumo hohoendeiru.)
Michiko is always smiling.

2b.  道子はいつもニコニコしている。(Colloquial)
(Michiko wa itsumo nikoniko shiteiru.)
Michiko is always smiling.

3a. 子供は微笑みながら母親に手を振った。(Written Japanese)
(Kodomo wa hohoemi nagara hahaoya ni te o futta.)
The child smiled and waved his hand to his mother.

3b. 子供はニコニコしながら/ にっこりしながらお母さんに手を振った。(Colloquial)
(Kodomo wa nikoniko shinagara/ nikkori shinagara okāsan ni te o futta.)
The child smiled and waved his hand to his mother.

Expressing Laughter Through Text in Japanese

In Japan, the letter “w” or “www” at the end of the sentence can express laughter in text. It is similar to the meaning of “LOL” in English. We also use “笑” or “ははは/ハハハ (hahaha)” with people we are close to.

ははは or ハハハ is the onomatopoeia for laughter. It is used to express normal laughter or laughter that stems from embarrassment.  


1. 今日寝坊して遅刻しちゃったよー(
(Kyō nebō shite chikoku shichatta yo- (wara) )
I slept over, and I was late for school.  LOL

2. 今朝急いでたから靴下左右違うやつ履いてきちゃったよ。www
(Kesa isoideta kara kutsushita sayū chigau yatsu haite kichatta yo. www)
I was in a rush this morning, so I had a different sock on each foot.  LOL

3. コーヒーを買おうと思ったのに、間違えてお茶買っちゃったよ。ははは
(Kōhī o kaō to omotta noni machigaete ocha kacchatta yo. Hahaha.)
I was supposed to buy a cup of coffee, but I bought tea by mistake.  Hahaha.

4. 健がまたつまらないギャグ言ってた。w
(Ken ga mata tsumaranai gyagu itteta. w)
Ken told another lame joke.  LOL

An Interesting Expression

Do you know what this expression means?

膝が笑う (hiza ga warau)  

膝 (hiza) means “knee.” You may think this refers to a funny bone in your knee, but it actually has a completely different meaning.  

If you have ever run a marathon or walked for hours, your knees might feel weak and shaky. 膝が笑う expresses that feeling of your knees about to give out. It’s a “funny” expression, isn’t it?


(Kaidan o kake agattara hiza ga waratteru yo.)
My knees are shaking/twitching from sprinting up the stairs.

How Do Japanese Women Laugh?

Have you ever seen Japanese women cover their mouths with their hands when they laugh? You may find that many Japanese women will do this. We do it unconsciously, as it is considered rude to laugh with our mouths open in public.

Photo of author

Yumi Nakata

Yumi is a native speaker of Japanese. She is living in Kanagawa, Japan, raising her three kids. She studied English as an exchange student in Washington state for a year. The days she spent with her American friends are some of the greatest memories of her life.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Send this to a friend