Having discovered these pearls of humor recently myself, I think it is a shame that senryu is not as well known as haiku, another sort of Japanese poem. Here is an introduction to senryu and its special humor, as well as a few examples that, I hope, will not miss to make you laugh.
(All senryu in the article are translated by myself; I did not keep the same number of morae, but tried to keep the funny spirit of the poem.)
The Difference between Senryu and Haiku
Haiku is a short poem of 17 morae written in a 5/7/5 pattern, and also includes a word that refers to a specific season. In comparison, senryu uses the same 5/7/5 pattern, but it does not include a seasonal word and uses a more colloquial language.
Another difference is that the first verse of a senryu is used to describe a type of situation, and the last verse holds the meaning of the poem and is funny or surprising, a bit like the punchline of a joke. To sum up, haiku describes natural nature, and senryu describes human nature.
Here is an example (source: Bungei Junkie Paradise).
お若いと Owakai to
言われて若く iwarete wakaku
ないと知る nai to shiru
I am told I look young
That is how I know
I am not young anymore
The Senryu Humor
Senryu is about daily life and often relatable situations. To write a good senryu, the key is to observe and find the humor and the irony present in mundane situations. Human relationships are thus a popular topic, as in the following example (source: Bungei Junkie Paradise).
ゴメンネの Gomen ne no
代わりか皿を kawari ka sara wo
Maybe it’s his way
To say sorry
He’s washing the dishes
Using currently popular words and expressions, or choosing themes that are hot topics at the time of the writing, is encouraged. As a result, senryu tend to reflect the mood of their times.
The following senryu by Mr. Kobata is a winner of the 2020 edition of the “Silver Senryu” contest, about the life of elderly people which is organized by the Japanese Association Of Retirement Housing.
やってみたいが yattemitai ga
俺無職 ore mushoku
I would like to switch
To remote work
But I don’t have a job
Some More Senryu for Your Enjoyment
The following senryu all won the first prize of the “Salaryman Senryu Concours,” a contest created in 1987. Despite its name, the contest is open not only to office workers but to everyone.
まだ寝てる Mada neteru
もう寝てる mou neteru
She’s still asleep
And when I come home
She’ll be asleep
I find this senryu both funny and sad, as it reflects the reality of many Japanese office workers who work so many extra hours that they cannot meet their spouses or families.
『ゴハンよ』と Gohan yo to
呼ばれて行けば yobarete ikeba
タマだった tama datta
“It’s lunchtime,” she called
When I arrived
It’s the cat she was feeding
車で行って kuruma de itte
チャリをこぐ chari wo kogu
I go by car
To the gym
To ride a bicycle
Writing senryu in English following the same strict rules would be difficult, but I think you can keep the same spirit with three short sentences and a funny ending. Reading and writing senryu are also good ways to study Japanese, so if you are a learner, I encourage you to do so! Senryu practitioners recommend writing one every day, like a diary. If ever you write some, do not hesitate to share them in the comments!
Karl Constantine Folkes Seklof5391*October 15, 2022 at 11:28 AM
This in an introduction to an online poem on poetry.com I’ve written called “A Senryu Tale of Genji” based on Murasaki Shikibu’s eleventh century classical masterpiece “A Tale of Genji.” While the irony of a senryu poem may be more direct and obvious, in this ‘extended-senryu’ poem, the irony is much more poetically subtle and relating to overall irony in which the story is embedded and which impacts the lives of Genji and all the other characters.
This online poem, available on poetry.com, is electronically translatable in several languages.
Your reading and commenting on my poem would be greatly appreciated.
Karl C. Folkes