A Japanese poet, Senryu
Created a funny haiku
While of similar brevity
It afforded more levity
And could be composed in the loo
While the origin of limericks, the witty poetry form used above, is not entirely certain, senryu — literally, “river willow” — derives from the name of poet 柄井川柳 (Karai Senryū, 1718-1790), who played a key role in popularizing the genre.
Senryu and haiku share the same economical format of five, seven and five morae or 拍 (haku, beats). Mora, which is Latin, is frequently rendered in English as “syllable,” although that’s not quite correct. As a rule of thumb, almost every hiragana is counted as one unit of sound.
This would include the final ん (n) in a word like 左遷 (sasen, demotion) but not words palatalized with ya, yu and yo, such as 急行 (kyūkō, express; four morae) or 愛猫 (aibyō, pet cat; four morae). Or take 日本 (Japan), which can be read either Nippon or Nihon. The former counts four morae (に, っ, ぽ and ん) whereas the latter is only three (に, ほ, ん).
Thanks in part to Toto Ltd., senryu are as popular now as they were in Senryu’s day. To commemorate sales of its 20 millionth ウォシュレット (Washlet) commode, Toto launched its トイレ川柳大賞 (Toire Senryū Taishō, Toilet Senryu Contest) in 2005.
Entrants, rather than defacing the walls of toilet cubicles by scrawling 落書き (rakugaki, graffiti), are encouraged to submit original entries related to episodes in their toilets at home, at work, school and so on. Each Nov. 10, rolls of toilet tissue with the winning entries are sold in bookstores and novelty shops for ¥350.
Why Nov. 10? Back in 1985, the Japan Toilet Association picked that date as トイレの日 (Toire no Hi, Toilet Day) because 11/10 makes a 語呂合わせ (goroawase, numeral mnemonic) that can be read いいトイレ (ii toire, nice toilet).
Here are some of the winning entries from the 2016 competition, accompanied by translation. (Note: To convey the meanings, in some cases I had to invoke poetic license.)
優秀賞 (Yūshū-shō, Grand Prix)
ウォシュレット / 考えた人 / ありがとう
Woshuretto / kangaeta hito / arigatō
To the person / who came up with the Washlet / Thank you! (by Meron Kame)
旅行先 / トイレの質が / 宿の質
Ryokō saki / toire no shitsu ga / yado no shitsu
Travel destination / The quality of the toilet / defines the quality of the hotel (Okamu)
出たくない / 最上級の / 褒め言葉
Detakunai / saijōkyū no / homekotoba
It earns the highest praise / and ultimate compliment / “I don’t want to leave” (Kyoppi)
いいトイレ賞 (Ii Toire-shō)
蓋の後 / 外国人の / 口も開き
Futa no ato / gaikokujin no / kuchi mo aki
After the lid / the foreigner’s jaw / drops in surprise (Nonbiri)
助かった / 助けたつもり / ないトイレ
Tasukatta / Tasuketa tsumori / nai toire
I was rescued although / the toilet had no intention / of saving me (Tomo Papa)
日本の / 思い出になる / いいトイレ
Nippon no / omoide ni naru / ii toire
A nice toilet / becomes a memory / of Japan (Matchan)
誰かいる / 勝手に流れて / 蓋も開く
Dare ka iru / katte ni nagarete / Futa mo aku
When somebody enters / it flushes on its own / and the lid opens (Hana Mizuki)
キッズ賞 (Kizzu-shō, Kids’ Prize)
ばあちゃんの / 来る日はトイレ / なぜきれい
Bāchan no / Kuru hi wa toire / Naze kirei
When Grandma visits / How come the toilet / is always so clean? (Panda)
ウンチして / 弟だけが / ほめられて
Unchi shite / Otōto dake ga/ Homerarete
Why is it that / only baby brother gets praise / when he poops? (Tomo Kizzu)
長トイレ / 弟マンガ / 父スマホ
Nagatoire / Otōto manga / Chichi sumaho
Long stay in the loo / Younger brother reads comics / Dad uses his smartphone (Haruta Makoto)
Water Style賞 (title is in English)
音姫は / 地球に優しい / お姫様
Otohime wa / Chikyū ni yasashii / O-hime-sama
Otohime-sama / the princess who’s easy on / the environment (Toilets Musume)
Otohime (actually written 乙姫) is a storybook princess from the children’s tale about Urashima Taro, who’s described as the Japanese Rip Van Winkle.
In a play on words, her name is changed to 音 (oto, sound) to form the name of the cleverly named product that generates sound effects from toilet cubicles. By activating the gadget, easily embarrassed people are able to mask the noise of bodily functions.
GP Neorest賞 (title is in English)
日本から / 世界のお尻 / 洗いたい
Nihon kara / sekai no o-shiri / araitai
From Japan / we want to wash / the whole world’s bottom (Teishu Tanpaku)
日本の / 技と心が / このトイレ
Nippon no / waza to kokoro ga / kono toire
Japan’s skills / ability and heart that / created this toilet (Katsura)
僕の地図 / マークは全て / ウォシュレット
Boku no chizu / māku wa subete / Woshuretto
All the markings / Indicated on my map / show Washlet locations (Yosshii 56)
水道代 / 考えトイレ / 最新に
Suidō dai / kangae toire / saishin ni
The latest thing / are toilets that consider / the water charges (Rin)
Contest winners from previous years can also be read at www.toto.co.jp/senryu. According to Toto’s website, by the way, the Kitakyushu-based company will be observing the centennial of its founding this coming May 15. I’ll be 虎視眈々 (koshi tantan, have my eyes peeled) for celebratory events and commemorative products.