Abstract Commonplace images from abroad of Japanese people and language hold that the Japanese are highly ritualized, harmony-seeking, and somewhat humorless. While the ritualized nature of Japanese communication is hardly contentious, and few would argue about the importance of harmony, this study attempts to describe and analyze a particular aspect of Japanese humor (which does, in fact, exist). However, unsurprisingly, this humor is governed by the two larger forces of a harmony-seeking culture and a strong reliance on ritualized interaction. In an analysis of 4 h of conversation among four different groups of Japanese speakers, with a particular focus on teasing remarks, it was found that some Japanese humorous conversations follow a distinct formulaic communicative pattern. The present study proposes that in this particular pattern of exchange, it is the person being criticized who actually initiates the criticism, rather than the individual who utters the critical remark, thus commencing an exchange of meta-oriented critical comments. Such a pattern highlights a novel aspect of face threatening acts (FTA) within a humorous context.