Humor, it is said, rarely crosses borders. Culture-specific references and ingrained social norms often mean jokes that leave audiences rolling in the aisles in the country of origin are greeted with puzzlement, incomprehension and even hostility when translated for foreign audiences.

The challenge of presenting Japanese humor in English is compounded by not only linguistic and cultural differences, but also because Japan is known abroad for its high-tech products, creative manga and "anime," and serious, hardworking people, exemplified by baseball and soccer players like Ichiro Suzuki and Hidetoshi Nakata, but not for its sense of humor.

This is one reason why Kaishi Katsura, a "rakugo" comic storyteller, decided to introduce the nearly four century old art form overseas by translating classic rakugo stories into English.