Giving insight into the life of a Japanese office worker.

You’re likely familiar with haiku, poems are written in a 5-7-5 syllable format. You may be less familiar with haiku’s cousin, senryu. While senryu have the same structure as haiku, the main difference is that senryu focus more on people and society, whereas haiku are usually about nature and the seasons. Senryu also tend to have a comedic edge, although sometimes the comedy is dark.

The Salaryman Senryu Contest, run by Dai-ichi Life Insurance, showcases the best poems written by office workers all over the country. Even though salarymen have a reputation for working insane hours, that doesn’t stop them from being creative in the little free time they have. In fact, for this year’s contest, over 62,500 entries were received, which were whittled down to the top 100.

Overwhelmingly, a common theme in this year’s entries was the coronavirus. Yuka Kakimi, a representative from Dai-ichi Life, commented: “A lot of these poems were representative of real life. These are unprecedented times, and everyone’s feeling a little lost and confused. These poems are relatable for everyone.”

Here are a couple of our favourites from the top 100. (Note that we’ve taken some liberties with the translation to try and keep with the 5-7-5 format.)

Some entries were about adjusting to the new normal of working from home.


No need for name stamps
No need to come into work
Oh no… am I next?


Commute once a week
And completely out of breath
I’m so out of shape

Masks are not a new or unusual concept in Japan, but the frequency that people are wearing them since the start of the pandemic inspired some poets with their entries.


All of the restaurants
No matter where you’re going
Dress code: wear a mask


New make-up routine
Mascara and eyeshadow
Put on a mask. Done


When they wear a mask
I just can’t figure it out
My boss’ feelings

▼ Is he happy with my work? Is he disappointed? Am I fired???

Other entries commented on the perils of using online conferencing for work.


At remote meetings
They see that I’ve put on weight
“Who on earth are you?!”


Work parties online
“Last train” excuse replaced by
“Battery’s running out”

▼ That’s certainly an effective way to leave an online party quickly.

Finally, a theme that is sure to be common throughout the world — the toll that working from home may be taking on families.


I start to feel it
“When will you next go to work?”
Pressure from my wife


My stimulus check
That I never got to see
Belongs to my wife


Our relationship
Is at its best when we play
Animal Crossing


During dinner time
“Daughter has left the meeting”
And wife is on mute

Although it’s not all doom and gloom, as demonstrated in this lovely senryu here.


When I work from home
I’m more thankful than ever
For my lovely wife

The top ten entries will be decided through a public vote, and will be announced at the end of May. If you want to vote for your favourite entry, you can do so by clicking here (Japanese only).

If reading some of these poems has got you interested in the art of senryu, check out these otaku senryu contest entries for perhaps the most relatable poems ever written.

Source: NHK News, サラリーマン川柳コンクール
Images: Pakutaso (1, 2, 3)
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