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Japan poetry contest winners reflect humor, hardship in life of salarymen amid pandemic

Crowds of people are seen wearing masks on their way to work in Tokyo's Chuo Ward on April 8, 2020. (Mainichi/Naotsune Umemura)

TOKYO -- Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co. announced 100 winning entries in the 34th Salaryman Senryu poetry contest on Jan. 27, with humor and hardship reflected in many of the entries.

    Many of this year's senryu poems -- a Japanese form of short poetry often featuring cynical and humorous aspects of human life in 17 syllables -- focused on the coronavirus pandemic, some portraying confusion among businessmen as they were suddenly told to work from home and others lamenting about the lack of exercise as they refrain from going out.

    A total of 62,542 poems were submitted in September and October 2020. Poems related to the coronavirus include, "Going to the office / forbidden by my boss / demanded by my wife," "Going to work / was actually an exercise / my tummy realized," "Teleworking / a different side / of my father I learn about," and, "Masks / can't block / my wife's complaints."

    Working styles are also affected by the abolishment of Japanese "hanko" seals, a move which the government is promoting, as the stamps have become an obstacle to full-scale teleworking. Among hanko-related poems, one reads, "No need for hanko / no need to go to the office / am I next?", while another reads, "Abolishment of hanko / to proceed with it / hanko is needed."

    Among the winning poems, one referenced the signature phrase "bai gaeshi," which means to "double the payback," in the popular Japanese novel-turned-television drama series "Hanzawa Naoki," which reads, "Bai gaeshi / I can't say to my boss and instead I / 'hai' kaeshi (reply 'yes')."

    One poem that referenced a signature phrase from the popular manga and anime series "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba" reads, "My wife's breathing / feel with all five senses! / total concentration!!!"

    Other major works include:

    "While working remotely / my boss tells me / 'look at the actual work site!'"

    "During a heated debate / wearing pajamas / on my lower body"

    "'I'm going to work' / just one "fusuma" sliding door away / teleworking"

    "It doesn't end / because there are no last trains / drinking party on Zoom"

    Voting will be held on the official website of Dai-ichi Life Insurance and elsewhere until March 19, and the 10 most popular poems will be announced in late May.

    (Japanese original by Koki Mikami, Business News Department)

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