Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Education, Language, Art and Inter-Cultural Communication (ICELAIC 2022)

A Study on the Life and Emotional Changes of Japanese Workers Through the Senryu Topic and Language Features: Taking the 33rd-35th Salaryman Senryu Contest, Run by Dai-ichi Life Insurance, as Example
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Senryu is a form of Japanese poetry often used to banter, satire or convey feelings. The forms of senryu contests are many and varied, such as the “Salaryman Senryu Contest”, “Silver Senryu Contest”, etc. People of different occupations and ages will contribute their own wisdom by writing senryu to express their feelings about today's life. Salaryman Senryu Contest, run by Japan's Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, is held every year and collects the senryus from Japanese salarymen. They use their talents and create them, and finally, “TOP 100 senryus” will be selected.

In December 2019, COVID-19 broke out and all countries in the world entered the epidemic era. This year is the third year after the epidemic. In these three years, the theme of senryus gradually changed from daily life to epidemic-related things. However, in the final analysis, it is because the epidemic changed the lifestyle of salarymen for almost ten years and twenty years. As the result of the 36th contest will be known next year, this study focuses on the 33rd (2019) to 35th (2022) Salaryman Senryu Contest and takes the “TOP 100 senryus” of each year as the research object, from which to analyze the characteristics and patterns of senryus, to figure out their emotions and observe Japan's life changes in the epidemic era.


If people want to have a better understanding of the senryus and Japanese humor, try to get in touch with the social context that makes up their unique style. Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company collects senryus from September to October every year, and the results will be announced in January of the following year. There was no epidemic during the 33rd annual solicitation, but subsequent contests are inseparable from COVID-19, which leads to the theme of the 33rd contest being entirely different from the following two competitions. By analyzing these differences, changes can be seen clearly in Japanese society during the epidemic era. And people can better understand the language characteristics of senryus in the epidemic era and the emotional sustenance of the salaryman.

2.1. Changes of Main Topics

“サラリーマン川柳コンクール” means Salaryman Senryu Contest. In 2019, 53,194 contributions were collected, and in 2021, they exceeded 62,657. As early as 2016, scholars such as Yingli Shen & Fei Wang [1] analyzed the life of Japanese people through the senryus. And in recent years, scholars such as Ito Takao [2] and Yuhua Ruan [3] also aimed at the salaryman senryus, and conducted thorough research and analysis of Japanese society. 300 sentences of “TOP 100 senryus” from the 33rd to the 35th were counted in this research. After analysis, it was found that in the senryus in 2019 most sentences revolved around the theme of “life” and “complaining about work,” accounting for 51% and 17% respectively. However, in the 34th contest, the epidemic itself or things that followed the epidemic, such as masks, online meetings, etc., the number of sentences around them reached 56, and in the 35th contest (2021) Japan had experience and an approach to deal with the epidemic, the number of epidemic-related senryus decreased, but is still as many as 48. From the perspective of these three years, before the outbreak of the epidemic, the largest number of the topic is still “daily life,” reaching 102 sentences, and the topic “epidemic” reached 104 sentences in only two years. From the perspective of the transformation of the main theme, the changes brought by COVID-19 to the life of salarymen are very profound (Table 1).

Contest Family Relation Complaining About Work Life Science and Technology COVID-19
33rd 12 17 51 18 0
34th 14 9 25 5 56
35th 7 5 26 2 48
Totals 33 31 102 25 104
Table 1

Classification, quantity and proportion of the main topic.

2.2. Analysis of Subtopics

According to the analysis, the senryus are divided into five major topics for the sake of studying a general tendency of the changes. Next, the main topics are subdivided into a variety of small topics to explore the changes in Japanese society during the epidemic.

First of all, senryu's topic of “life,” which takes up the largest proportion of all, is divided into several sub-categories. Topics such as “checkout,” “milk tea” and “emotion” will not be discussed due to little data.

It can be seen that in the main topic “life,” the proportion of the topic “Enjoyments/vents in life” is the largest, accounting for 23.5% of the total, followed by the topic “homophonic pun,” accounting for 16.7%, and the third is “economic problems,” accounting for 9.8%. The senryu topics below that are less than 10 sentences in total, therefore these are not the key point which this article studies. Besides, “homophonic pun” is the key content of the second section and won't be discussed here. Other topics will be selected for the research (Table 2).

Topic 33rd 34th 35th Totals Maximum
Enjoyments/vents in life 20 4 0 24 (23.5%) 2019 (83.3%)
Homophonic pun 4 10 3 17 (16.7%) 2020 (58.8%)
Economic problems 8 2 0 10 (9.8%) 2019 (80.0%)
Health 4 0 1 5 (4.9%) 2019 (80.0%)
New Imperial era – Reiwa 5 0 0 5 (4.9%) 2019 (100%)
Fun things in work 1 0 4 5 (4.9%) 2021 (80.0%)
Pension and retirement 3 1 0 4 (3.9%) 2019 (75.0%)
Emotion 2 0 0 2 (2.0%) 2019 (100%)
Environmental problems 1 1 0 2 (2.0%) 2019, 2020 (50%)
Interpersonal relationship 2 0 0 2 (2.0%) 2019 (100%)
Milk tea 2 0 0 2 (2.0%) 2019 (100%)
Checkout 1 0 0 1 (1.0%) 2019 (100%)
Table 2

Classification, quantity and proportion of the subtopics of the topic “life”.

2.2.1. Enjoyments/Vents in Life

“Enjoyments/vents in life” shares the highest proportion of the main topic “life” in 2019. And for the next two years it showed a declining trend. One obvious reason is that when the impact of COVID-19 is large enough to completely change their lifestyle and infiltrate all aspects of their work and life, salaryman's complaints about life are actually about the epidemic, or grumbling about the epidemic-related changes. It is precisely because of those changes that have limited them to observing things far away from the epidemic. In 2020 and 2021, most of the enjoyments and vents are based on the epidemic. However, life beyond COVID-19, for various reasons, such as home office, caused the observing angle of the world might be limited to their own apartments. When the salaryman feels stressed out, they are unable to go outside as freely as before. After all, the epidemic has occupied the majority of life, so it is conceivable that the topic is mostly derived from COVID-19. For example, in 2019:

指示したら それ無駄ですと 断られ

Translation1:Told you to do it but you said it's useless and refused.

Believe that many people may have encountered this scene; this is the commonality of senryu, which can find out the small details of life and describe it, making people feel “Wow, it's so real.” but in 2020, only 4 of 100 sentences are about “enjoyments or vents in life.”

自粛中 見えた夫の定年後

Translation: Confined at home, I seemed to see my husband's behavior in his retirement.

Two of the four sentences are about the creation caused by the epidemic, even though the years are different. When referring to the interestingness and authenticity of salaryman's daily life, senryus are always so short and vivid. But in 2021, there was no sentence about the topic “enjoyments or vents in life.” Due to the epidemic situation, salarymen began to rethink the changes in the epidemic, so the topics of senryus also changed to a certain extent, which will be discussed in the next section.

In this aspect, there are some common points between China and Japan. According to statistics from Ping Chen [4], most of the Chinese network buzzwords in 2019 were “I'm beaten,” “996 work schedule,” “Get carried away,” and other interesting words closely related to daily life, but in 2020, “hero in harm's way,” “Stay strong Wuhan!” “Dabai,” which is related to COVID-19, has become mainstream.

2.2.2. Economic Changes and Pension

Senryus about economic changes are mostly concentrated on 2019, for example:

10% バブルは金利 いま税金

Translation: Profits could rise by 10% during the Bubble Economy, but now the tax has risen to 10%.

2%増 なぜか小遺い2割減

Translation: Something has increased by 2%, and somehow, my money is 20% less.

All this points to the fact that on 1 October 2019, the Japanese government decided to raise consumption tax from 8% to 10%. The move caused intense debate among Japanese salarymen. Shunsuke Kobayashi suggested that it increased the economic burden of Japanese families by 8.2 trillion yen [5]. Indeed, for common people, especially salarymen, who have been struggling to raise their own families all the time, the tax increases their economic burden. With the aging tendency becoming more and more serious in Japan, if the government wants to maintain essential services and all kinds of social security, policies treating the aged all the time will undoubtedly be a huge fiscal expenditure. It might be difficult to implement if the government did not raise taxes. It is coincidental that in June 2019, a report proposed by the Financial Services Agency showed that a huge gap was found in pensions of Japanese families; the fund gap is up to 20 million yen and caused a great disturbance:

足りないの? そもそも無いよ 2000万

Translation: Pension isn't enough? Stop it! I don't even have 20 million in my life.

It's hard for the old people, and it's even harder for the salaryman. This is the current situation of the salaryman in 2019, what Japan looked like before the pandemic. So, how has Japanese society changed after COVID-19?

Through the data, it can be seen that the number of senryus about “Life changes under COVID-19” and “Impact of COVID-19” are both 33, ranked the first. Followed by senryus such as “Enjoyments under COVID-19”, “Online meeting,” “masks,” and so on. Senryus in 2020 and 2021 can be divided into two categories. The first category is the senryus which express the salaryman's feelings about the epidemic through some small things, or record the life under the epidemic. This kind of senryus is written about that “small thing,” but in fact, it is about their personal feelings deep inside their heart—about COVID-19. The second category is specifically associated with the epidemic-related things, such as online meetings, masks, etc., to complain or record funny things about it. These senryus are not so profound as the first category; from different perspectives, salarymen's life changes during the epidemic can be seen.

2.2.3. Senryus About COVID-19: First Category

This kind of senryu is mainly composed of the top two topics in Table 3. For example:

いつだろう 同期の素顔 見れるのは

Translation: Oh, when will I see my colleagues/peers again? Oh, when will I see them take off their masks? (When will the epidemic disappear?)

孫の顔初めて 見るのはスマホ越し

Translation: The first time I saw my grandson was on the screen.

This kind of sentence comes from the topic “Life changes under COVID-19”. The first sentence has a slight feeling of melancholy. And the second one seems to be talking about the inconvenience for salaryman to go out during the epidemic, and they can only communicate through the mobile phone. But in fact, feelings such as “loneliness” are what salaryman wants to talk about, not the phenomenon itself. Before the pandemic, it was easy to see families and friends, but now it is not. It can only see their face through the screen for a long time; it can only speak but can't touch each other. These are the life changes under COVID-19. 2020 is the first year of the COVID-19 epidemic, when the salarymen were surrounded by a sense of fear and helplessness, Makoto Nishi also showed that the Japanese people showed panic during the epidemic [6]. The feelings expressed by the senryus in 2020 were mostly “helpless.” But in 2021, it changed.

あいさつは もう打ちました? 熱は出た?

Translation: Daily greetings: Have you been vaccinated? Do you have a fever?

一日中 チャットでやりとり 会話ゼロ

Translation: Chat on the internet all day long, but keep silent in the reality.

Topic 33rd 34th 35th Totals Maximum
Life changes under COVID-19 0 18 15 33 (31.7%) 2020 (54.5%)
Impact of COVID-19 0 23 10 33 (31.7%) 2020 (69.7%)
Enjoyments under COVID-19 0 16 13 29 (27.9%) 2020 (55.2%)
Online meeting 0 7 10 17 (16.3%) 2021 (58.8%)
Mask 0 6 9 15 (14.4%) 2021 (60.0%)
Stay at home 0 4 10 14 (13.5%) 2021 (71.4%)
Telework 0 6 4 10 (9.6%) 2020 (60.0%)
Weight 1 3 3 7 (6.7%) 2020, 2021 (42.9%)
“Three Cs” policy 0 7 0 7 (6.7%) 2020 (100%)
Take-out 0 3 2 5 (4.8%) 2020 (60.0%)
Mute 0 2 2 4 (3.8%) 2020, 2021 (50.0%)
Zoom 0 1 2 3 (2.9%) 2021 (66.7%)
Table 3

Classification, quantity and proportion of the subtopics of the topic “COVID-19”.

Compared with senryus that released emotions about COVID-19, Senryus in 2021 were more like a kind of “Japanese ridicule,” mocking events, living conditions and expressing salaryman's depressed mood. With the development of vaccine and the improvement of prophylactic measures, when faced with the pandemic, salarymen are not as fearful and negative as in the first year, but unfortunately, due to life pressures such as unemployment and economic problems, the tone of the senryus in 2021 was low-spirited. Xinhua News also pointed out that nearly 70,000 Japanese people were unemployed in 2021 [7]. These are all reflected in senryus written in 2021.

It was found that the mutual effect of the changes and influences under the COVID-19 epidemic. In 2020, with the tremendous social changes in the country, salarymen have been greatly affected and impacted by the epidemic. But at that time, people still firmly believed that the epidemic would be ended soon. Because of COVID-19, salarymen can experience a rare and comfortable life by staying at home. Although the macro environment is not so good, they can barely live a “bitter-sweet” life. In 2021, although the salaryman has gotten used to the life with the coronavirus, when all is said and done, the life of the salaryman has become more difficult than before. It can be seen that not only has the lifestyle changed, but the inner feelings of salarymen have also changed.

2.2.4. Senryus About COVID-19: Second Category

This kind of senryu is specifically associated with epidemic-related things, like an embarrassing incident when working at home, or interesting stories of the epidemic life. It can also be subdivided into many subtopics. A senryu might contain multiple categories at the same time. Compared with the previous category, this type of senryu which relates to concrete cases might be more interesting and sharp.

リモ一トで ミュ一ト忘れて 愚痴バレる

Translation: Forget to be in the online meeting, and all complaints have been heard.

リモ一トの 背景だけで 行くハワイ

Translation: Only in the background of online meetings can I experience the feeling of going to Hawaii.

These types of senryu contain topics such as “Enjoyments under COVID-19,” “Online meetings,” “mute,” and so on, describing numerous works of real events that happen in salaryman's daily life, real and interesting. “リモ一トの 背景だけで 行くハワイ” – this example is not only interesting, but also a sense of “self-deprecating,” – the writer is simply no money to go to Hawaii in his life. It can be seen from the data in Table 3 that this type of senryu sentences in 2020 and 2021 are not unusual, and the number of senryu these two years is almost the same. It is the topics and language characteristics of senryus. For instance, the topic “Mask” shares almost the same number as the topic “Telework” in 2020 and 2021, in fact, it also shows that the main trend of 2020 and 2021 remained almost unchanged, but this does not mean “unchanged.” The next section will focus on the analysis of “Stay at home” and “Three Cs policy” these two topics that with great changes these two years.

Firstly, let's take a look at the senryus theme of “Stay at home” in 2020.

「出社日は次はいつなの?」 妻の圧

Translation: “When will you leave our house and go to work next time?” – “threat” from my wife.

何曜日? 在宅勤務で わからなく

Translation: What day is it today? I don't know because I work from home every day.

In 2020, senryus were mostly about the fun things of telework. For some salarymen, indeed, it is a good thing to cut down their commute time and alleviate physical fatigue because the salaryman doesn't need to cram into the bus or subway and stay away from the feeling of restraint in the workplace. But in 2021, the sentences about the topic “Stay at home” has increased, most of which are giving prominence to the epidemic itself and its influence – “How long has it been?” and “How much my life has changed?”, such as:

「久しぶり!」なんか違和感 マスクなし

Translation: Long time no see! But why he looks so strange… Oh, I see, because he doesn't have a mask on.

But why the number of these senryus has been on the increase? These senryus aren't just talking about “How long” and “How much.” The emotional changes behind them are the main points. After making a deep analysis, it can be seen that the topic “Three Cs” policy (avoid closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings) shares the highest proportion in 2020. This year, Japan started to implement the policy. The salarymen are already surrounded by a cold and depressed social environment. After the implementation of the policy, salaryman's thoughts and emotions become more negative than before. It was also reflected in 2021. Michiko Ueda, Assoc. Prof. in the Faculty of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University [8] carried out a questionnaire survey among 3,000 people living in Japan in February 2022. Results showed that young and middle-aged people aged 20-50 (salaryman common age), men (male workers constitute more than 58.1%), people whose living conditions were worse than before (under the epidemic), and people who had no friends to pour out their troubles, were more likely to be lonely and depressed. And the emotional changes revealed by the language features of senryus will be discussed and analyzed in the following text.


3.1. Emotional Changes in Senryus

The changes in the topics reveal the great changes in salaryman's daily life, so the sentence emotion can reveal the changes in their attitudes toward life and emotions deep in their heart.

According to the data, linguistic features such as “Speechless” and “Helpless,” which sound like a kind of complaint, accounted for the largest proportion in 2019, before the COVID-19 epidemic. In 2020, with the emergence of COVID-19, many salarymen found and recorded some interesting phenomena in life, from staying at home or the online meetings. The proportion of “fun and happy” was 41.1%. Although the salaryman can “Extract pleasure from a bitter life,” there were still 34.4% of the sentences showing the features of “Helpless.” In 2021, many of the senryus were showing negative feelings such as “self-mockery” and “sad” (Table 4).

Linguistic Features 33rd 34th 35th Maximum
Neutral 21 13 27 2021 (44.3%)
Fun and happy 26 30 17 2020 (41.1%)
Helpless 41 44 43 2020 (34.4%)
Self-mockery 9 7 10 2021 (38.5%)
Speechless 11 4 5 2019 (55.0%)
Sad 14 11 15 2021 (37.5%)
Astonished 1 1 0 2019, 2020 (50.0%)
Gratified 0 2 1 2020 (66.7%)
Awkward 0 3 3 2020, 2021 (50.0%)
Warm 0 1 0 2020 (100%)
Table 4

Classification, quantity and proportion of topic linguistic features.

After classifying the linguistic features of senryus, it can be seen that due to no cases of epidemics having been reported at that time, there are still many positive senryus in Table 5, but in view of the great pressure that salarymen have in their mind, there are also many negative senryus in it. In 2020, although the epidemic situation was very serious, the salaryman also obtained the experience of staying at home and having a good time. However, panic and fear were widespread during the epidemic situation. The number of sad and negative senryus was twice the number of positive senryus. In 2021, owing to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 in Japan, the living conditions were even worse, and the number of positive senryus was greatly reduced, only 18 sentences. The negative senryus reached nearly four times as many as the positive ones.

Positive Neutral Negative
33rd 26 22 75
34th 33 16 66
35th 18 30 73
Table 5

Classification and quantity of the senryus.

It can be seen that under the epidemic background, the mentality of Japanese salarymen is becoming negative. Jiayin Chen and Xuefei Bi also believe that senryu is more like a sense of powerlessness; it is passive rather than a kind of humor [9].

3.2. Emotional Changes From the Description of the Senryu

In addition, the emotional changes of salarymen can be seen when analyzing the description of the senryu.

3.2.1. Homophonic Pun

Like the homophonic pun in Chinese and English, Japanese senryu also has its unique homophonic pun. And it is commonly used in a relaxed and pleasant situation, such as:

ギガバイト 時給いくらか 孫に聞く

Translation: I asked my grandson: “ギガバイト?How much is the hourly pay?”

Here, the meaning of the “ギガバイト” is GB – a unit of memory, but it is written as a homophonic pun because the pronunciation of the suffix of the word “ギガバイト” has almost the same sound as the word “アルバイト” – which means a part-time job. The homophonic pun sentences were shown the most in Table 2 in 2020, and by coincidence, positive senryu sentences were also shown the most in 2020, which accords with the foregoing analysis.

3.2.2. Transition

Transition art is also used in senryu's sentence. The characteristic of the Japanese is to put a resulting sentence first and start to describe the cause and consequences later. It's what the Japanese do best, put a result first and then add some dramatic or a little tragic transition so that the readers can quickly bring themselves into the scene and comprehend the emotional changes in the senryus. Senryu is an excellent sentence collection in Japan. And this technique is widely used in it.

お疲れといたわる彼女は ブイア一ル

Translation: My girlfriend said to me: “You've had a long day, babe.” Wow actually, she's just an AI.

This kind of technique – transition, is mostly used in sentences that express a negative context such as, “speechless” and “self-mockery.” In 2021, this kind of sentence has increased significantly, which accords with the foregoing analysis.


By analyzing the changes in senryu's topic, sentence emotion and description based on The 33rd-35th Salaryman Senryu Contest, which runs by Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, it is reasonable to draw a conclusion that under the COVID-19 epidemic, the living environment and lifestyle of Japanese salaryman have undergone great changes, it was routine for the salaryman to cram into a bus or wear a shirt and tie every day at work, but owing to the COVID-19, they can work from home and communicate with colleagues through the online meetings. It is also rare for a traditional Japanese family to have lunch or dinner together. However, although the commuting problems and family problems could be relieved, salarymen were confined at home for a long time owing to COVID-19, which also made them more difficult to do what they could have done before. And therefore, the psychology of Japanese salarymen has also changed. Before the epidemic, salarymen had always been in a rapid rhythm and high-pressure environment, there are some salarymen who felt depressed and expressed a negative attitude toward their life, but there are also some salarymen who can manage to find the value and meaning of their life. In 2020, salarymen stayed from home most of the time, and it is a rare chance for salarymen to avoid the “terrible boss,” or avoid the interpersonal relationships in their workplace, or spend time with their family for a long time, and discover some funny things under the epidemic that has not been found until 2020. However, owing to the salarymen being surrounded by an environment with COVID-19, it is inevitable for them to show a negative attitude. In 2021, with the increased economic downturn pressure and ongoing outbreak of the epidemic in Japan, many salarymen have begun to face the real pressure of the epidemic, and their psychology has become more negative and sad.

Salarymen's income is not only related to themselves but more likely related to the families they support all the time. If their mentality continues to be more negative and worse, not just their daily lives will be affected, but their families might also be obsessed with this. With the background of the COVID-19 epidemic, except for the economic support and cost-of-living allowance, it is more important to give them psychological counselling and psychological support. I hope the analysis in this article can be good for people to realize that this is not just a problem in Japan, but should be a wake-up call for countries around the world. In addition to physical health, mental health should also be taken seriously.


All translations in this article were translated by the author.


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Cite This Article

AU  - Ying Zou
PY  - 2023
DA  - 2023/03/24
TI  - A Study on the Life and Emotional Changes of Japanese Workers Through the Senryu Topic and Language Features: Taking the 33rd-35th Salaryman Senryu Contest, Run by Dai-ichi Life Insurance, as Example
BT  - Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Education, Language, Art and Inter-Cultural Communication (ICELAIC 2022)
PB  - Athena Publishing
SP  - 25
EP  - 32
SN  - 2949-8937
UR  -
DO  -
ID  - Zou2023
ER  -