People laugh out loud at the 10th "owaraiko" world championship in Hofu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on Dec. 14. (Kazufumi Kaneko)

HOFU, Yamaguchi Prefecture--It was no laughing matter here on Dec. 14 when competitors vied to see who could best laugh their worries away from the past year and wish for happiness in the coming year.

Twenty-eight teams took part in the 10th "owaraiko" world championship, which takes a cue from "waraiko," a religious ritual that has been handed down in Hofu since the Kamakura Period (1185-1333).

Some of the participants were from Africa and Latin America.

A 27-year-old Kenyan student, whose team placed fourth, said that Japanese culture, in which laughter can be the subject of a contest, is amusing.

One team consists of three members. First, each member laughs aloud in turn, saying, "Wa-Ha-Ha" and holding up a fan with both hands.

Lastly, all the members whoop with laughter in unison.

"Just laughing is not enough," said Shuichi Hashima, who headed the panel of judges.

He said three elements--grace, drive and power to make the audience happy--combine to make a "good" laugh.