Overcome Creative Block by Playing Shiritori

by Pamela Hodges | 46 comments

Let's overcome creative block by playing Shiritori. Shiri– what did you say? Shi-ri-tori, a Japanese word-game. We are going to Japan to learn a new word game. Well, we are not really going to Japan. I think it would be expensive for all of the readers of The Write Practice to fly to Tokyo.



We will play the word game, Shiritori, in the privacy of our homes.

Don't feel bad if you have never heard of the game Shiritori before today. I lived in Tokyo for seven years in the eighties, and I never heard of the Japanese word game Shiritori until last night when I was watching a TEDx talk by Shimpei Takahashi, a Japanese toy designer.

Takahashi was told by his boss to come up with new toy ideas by studying data. Takahashi couldn't think of any new toy ideas by studying dry boring information. He was stuck. A toy designer with no ideas is as bad as a writer with no ideas, but not as bad as seven dirty litter boxes.

Instead of studying data, Takahashi played Shiritori and created several fun toys, such as a toothbrush shaped like a guitar that played music. Let's play the game too. Who knows, maybe your protagonist could use Takahashi's toothbrush to brush his teeth?

What is Shiritori?


Shiritori is a word game where the first letter of a word is the last letter of the previous word. 

Shiritori” literally means “taking the buttocks” or “taking the end”.

The Japanese version of Shiritori is a little different from how you would play the game in English: The players are required to say a word that begins with the final kana of the previous word. You lose the game if your word ends with the sound, “n” as no words in Japanese start with that sound.  (You can't lose in the game we play today.)

 Overcome Creative Block By Playing Shiritori

As I don't speak Japanese very well, and the only Japanese noun I know is tamago, which means egg, I would have a hard time playing the game in Japanese with you. We will play the game in English, where I at least know sixty-four nouns. 

The Rules Of Shiritori

  1. The words must be nouns.
  2. The first letter of the word is the last letter of the last word.
  3. You can play with one of more people, but today you will be playing as a single player.
  4. We will be using three words for our game today, but you can play with more words.

We will choose the first word at random, Here are several ways to pick your first word.

  1. Call your friend and ask them to give you a noun.
  2. Page 76 in your dictionary, first column on the left, the first noun you find.
  3. Open your refrigerator with your eyes closed and stick your hand inside. The first item you touch is your first word.
  4. Take this word as a gift from me for your first word: cat.
  5. And Joe Bunting, the brilliant editor of The Write Practice,  is also going to give you a noun to start with: right Joe? His word is: typewriter.

Example of Shiritori




Cat – table – egg. I made the end and beginning letters of the words red so you can see how the game is played.

The random association of the three words can be used as a writing prompt to write a story about a cat, a table, and an egg. Or the random three words you create can be used to help you get creative ideas flowing in your brain again.

Perhaps you are stuck in the romantic novel you are writing. How will your protagonist get over the trauma of losing their job? Will they take their cat to the store to buy a new table or will they decide to hatch a dozen eggs and raise their own chickens? Will they fall in love with the veterinarian who specializes in chickens?

But don't just stop at one combination of three. Keep playing the game until you have several word associations, or until you get a flash of inspiration to write a story to save your hero, or maybe to design a toy.

Just like, Shimpei Takahashi, the Japanese toy designer got ideas for toys from playing Shiritori, you can get ideas for your stories from playing the game.

You can beat creative block by playing Shiritori.

Have you ever played Shiritori before?


Write a story using one of the three-word patterns you created. Write for fifteen minutes, and then please share your story in the comments, and comment on someone else's story.

All my best,


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Pamela writes stories about art and creativity to help you become the artist you were meant to be. She would love to meet you at pamelahodges.com.


  1. Kellie McGann

    Well, now I have something to distract me from my writing all day today. 🙂 It’s really fun.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hi Kellie,
      What was more distracting? The ice-cream cone or the word-game.
      Glad it was fun.
      Oh, I have to make a puppet with red hair. Just remembered.

  2. Mirel

    Interesting. I have never heard of the game, but as children, we played something similar in our youth group and summer camp, only with Hebrew songs. We sang a song for a set time, at the end of the time, the next team had to come up with a song starting with the last letter of the last word just sung. I’m not sure if that can be used as an inspiration for writing, although you can try to find a song using your word and see if the song inspires a creative idea or story line…

    • LilianGardner

      I also played this game in school, but only verbally. The one to miss a noun was out. The last player was the winner.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Mirel,
      I have never heard of the song game. You would have to really know your songs to think of the next one. What a fun memory. Thank you for sharing.
      Anything can be used as inspiration for writing. Even cleaning litter boxes.
      Your story made me think of my summer camp memories too.
      All little images that bring on stories, and we are all connected.

  3. concordriverlady

    Annah held the cell phone as one would hold a bomb, tentatively, with delicate fingers. Since she needed to make the phone call, just staring at the phone would accomplish about as much as making soup from air. She whispered a silent prayer he wouldn’t answer the call.

    My words: fingers –> soup –> prayer

    • LilianGardner

      This is good, concordriverlady. It seems like a premise for a story.

    • concordriverlady

      Thank you. It was actually a piece for my story. This little exercise pushed me last my block. It was fun and kicked my butt in gear.

    • Terry Lynn Tuttle

      Ditto here, great premise for a longer story, one that will ring very true in many readers hearts. Love the image of the phone as the bomb about to destroy her life.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Concor Driver Lady,
      I can imagine Annah holding the phone, and I am so curious to know why she was dreading him answering the call.
      How fun.

    • concordriverlady

      Hello, thank you for the response. If Eric, the other main character of the story, answers the call, Annah will have no choice but to tell him their relationship is over. Her twenty year old son, in his selfish splendor, gave her an ultimatum–him or Eric. However, should the call remain unanswered, Annah will be able to buy some time before she breaks Eric’s heart, along with her own.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Thank you for letting me know. What a hard decision, between her son or Eric. Whose heart will she break? Hmmm. Maybe her son needs a time-out.
      So nice to hear from you.

  4. Jay Warner

    Instead of a complete story, I’m going to give you 3 word groups formed by playing the game and the story synopsis each inspired.

    peace-elephant-triangle: When a boat goes missing in the Bermuda Triangle, Major Picketts uses his trained elephant to bring peace to the families affected by the tragedy.

    band-diamond-desk: She kept the diamond ring in her desk drawer, never dreaming that a notorious band leader had once given it to a famous singer out of fondness for her voice. When the band leader approaches her to retrieve the diamond, Sarah is aghast to learn the true story behind it.

    rug-gate-exit: The old rug was placed just inside the gate of the old teacher’s house so that anyone visiting would be able to wipe their feet before coming down the pristine walk leading to the front door. That the teacher could not stand any kind of dirt on her walk way was a constant source of vexation for the gardener who had to carefully clean his shoes upon his entrance and exit.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Oh my Jay,
      I love your little stories. Each one seems so real, and in all of them I want to know more. Major Picketts, I would love to meet. And the diamond ring, poor Sarah.
      And the teacher, who didn’t even want dirt on her sidewalk.
      Oh my. Please may I know more?
      Thank you for playing.

    • Terry Lynn Tuttle

      Jay, Jay, Jay,

      Hey, wait, Sarah was “aghast to learn the true story.” AGHAST, really? Well, you cannot stop there! You have totally caught my attention. I thought this was going to be a sappy love story, but love stories don’t leave people AGHAST!!! Come on, don’t leave me hanging. Please tell me what happened between the band leader and the singer that shocked Sarah.

  5. LilianGardner

    You rock, Pamela! You come up with ‘fun writing’.
    Your word and that of Joe Bunting and my word.
    Cat, tyrewriter, raven.
    My cat Minne loves sitting between my keyboard and computer screen, which hinders me from typing accurately. I am forced to pull out my old Olivetti tyrewriter and strum on the keys, making umpteen mistakes, which I don’t correct. i can copy the text on my keyboard when Minnie moves off.

    Book, kettle, elf. (my words)

    Flora put the kettle on the stove to make a cup of tea. She opened her story book and curled up on the couch to read about the little green elf. A beautiful painting on the opposite page showed him sitting in a yellow buttercup, with a silver star in his hand.
    Flora lost herself in dreaming that she was a fairy, saying hello to the elf, and asking if she could look at the silver star. He stepped out of the buttercup and held out the star to her. She was about to take it when a sharp whistle from the kettle pulled her back to reality, and, with a sigh, she left her book to turn off the stove.
    She did not care any more the tea so she hurried back to the book to continue her day dream.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Lillian,
      Thank you for thinking I rock. Glad you had fun with today’s story.

      So nice to see your again. Thank you for having fun and playing the word game.
      Did the elf come back? I think that Flora really did become a fairy. She wasn’t day dreaming at all.
      Hello To Minnie. Cats really are great friends.
      Hope all is well with you.

    • LilianGardner

      Hello Pam,
      You are right! Flora became a fairy.
      Minnie sends you a meow and a purrrrrrr to say she’s happy.
      🙂 Lilian.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Lillian,
      Oh! She does. How fun. I want to be a fairy too. At least for one day.
      Hello to Minnie. Harper says hello too.

    • LilianGardner

      A special hello to you and Harper.

    • Terry Lynn Tuttle

      Hi, LilianGardner,

      Like Pamela, I want to know if the elf is waiting for her when she returns. Stories that mingle the world of faerie with what we call reality capture the imagination of readers of all ages. When she grasps the silver star, where will she be?

  6. Aspholessaria

    Great idea. I’m currently stuck in my WIP and I’ll try this to see if it gets me unstuck.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Aspholessaria,
      Did you game help you get unstuck? Hopefully it helped.
      Maybe let your protagonist have a dinner break. Even fictional characters have to eat.
      All my best,

    • Aspholessaria

      Not the WIP I was thinking about, but it helped with another unfinished one that I have shelved for the time being. I may have to resurrect it.

  7. FritziGal

    Typewriter – Robot – Tornado

    Michael Porter’s creative mind causes him to build a robot which he programs to perform
    a variety of functions. One day, Robbie the Robot sits down at the typewriter and begins
    turning out best-selling novels with the speed of a tornado. But then, a real tornado comes
    along, slams Robbie into a wall, and disrupts his inner workings in a way that severely
    impairs the quality of his work. After that, Michael ends up writing for a greeting card
    company, composing sappy verses, as his prior fame quickly fades into oblivion. At
    some point, Robbie the Robot is dismantled and turned into a barbecue grill. His
    duties are now more in keeping with his diminished capabilities, and Michael’s savory
    hot dogs and burgers are suddenly the Talk of the Town.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Your mind really went creative with Robbie the Robot. The Robot went from writing best-selling novels to making hot dogs and burgers.
      Is that what could happen to a writer if they were a person when a tornado comes?
      Very playful.
      Now I just have to find Michael’s house so I can get a hot dog.

    • Terry Lynn Tuttle

      OK, FritziGal, my brain has ricocheted through all my favorite Asimov stories, and I am totally in a mellow stratospheric space where Robbie is conversing with Adams Ford Prefect while Arthur is trying to order a hot dog and a cup of tea.

      Sooo, let me ask, are Robbie’s capabilities truly diminished or is he just waiting for the cue to take over the entire food industry?

  8. Gary G Little

    Arrggghhh … logic bomb! I did it. I took the “egg” and began my list.


    Amazing, once you start that loop, it is harder than hell to break it!!! Or did I miss a rule?

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hi Gary G. Little,
      May I please help you get out of the loop? How about doughnut? And if you don’t like the word, you could possibly eat it instead.
      Nice to see you again.

  9. S.M. Sierra

    Cat Track Kangaroo
    I was out Christmas shopping one day, looking for the perfect gift for my Mother, when I happened across a shop called ‘Things from your parents generation’, curious I stepped inside.

    “Joe, I’m going to put Cat Stevens on the eight track, help the customer,” I heard a woman call out.
    A man behind the counter groaned, “But, Martha, Captain Kangaroo is on, you know its my favorite show!”

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello S.M. Sierra,
      Oh my. I am glad you kept going. The hippy woman was so interesting. I couldn’t understand why she was standing so close. Until she wasn’t there. Thank you for not telling me she was a ghost.
      The” heart beating wildly,” told me.
      Thank you for playing. And I peeked at your book on Amazon. It looks like it is a real adventure.

    • Terry Lynn Tuttle

      Oh, I love Cat Stevens … ” morning has broken like the first mor-or-or-ning…”
      Oh, oh,oh and I miss Captain Kangaroo.
      And a ghost in a musty old antique store? Oh, please tell me there are books, too. There are books, right? How about wingback chair calling out to me to sit down and read the long version of this story.

  10. Terry Lynn Tuttle




    So, November 1, 2015, my iPhone alarm jauntily blares some god awful circus tune at some god forsaken hour: 4: effing 30 in the morning. It’s dark. It’s quiet. iI’s a circus tune. Who sent in the clowns?

    Fllooomph, I drop back down from the ceiling. I slap around the bed. Where’s the phone? Where’ s the phone? Damn, I hope this thing doesn’t wake up my housemate’s yappy little purse dog. Where’s the phone? The last thing I need is for the whole house to be awake and start talking. I’m getting up to write, gosh darn it! If my housemate gets up, she’ll start talking and expecting conversation.

    The phone has wedged itself between the bed and the wall. Of, course it would, the little white-faced devil. Calling all clowns, calling all clowns! Let’s go scare little kiddies and yappy purse dogs! Calling all clowns, calling all clowns!

    I put the phone under the pillow last night to muffle this morning clarion call to the circus. Damn, damn, damn. I need a lion tamer to whip this thing into shape, get it to stay on its assigned pedestal. This phone has definitely been taking lessons in annoying behavior from my housemate’s purse dog.

    I jump out of bed, grab the bed frame and shake it. The phone drops to the floor with a sonic boom that tops the clown siren. I hit the floor and shimmy under the bed. I pat around under the bed finding the phone along with several coins, my Macy’s credit card, my lost phone charger cord and a box of raisins.

    I hear a snuffling sound at my door, a tiny scratch, another tiny scratch and a loud yip. I crawl across the floor to open the door before the yip,yip howling starts. Oh, yes, now the wiggle fest begins. I give the dog the box of raisins. Are you supposed to feed dogs raisins? Are they on the no-no list?

    I race on tiptoe out to the kitchen where the list is posted on the fridge. Ahhh, the aroma of coffee welcomes me. I shine my phone flashlight on the fridge door. Yep, number 4 on the list: No grapes, raisins, nuts or chocolate. None of the good stuff. No problem I reach in the fridge and find a cheese stick. I think that is on the no-no list too but I don’t check.

    Coffee in hand, I walk over to the antique table my housemate’s mother has lent me for NaNoWritMo. An old -fashioned typewriter waits patiently with a ream of crisp white paper to the left. To the right is a bowl of almonds and raisins. Sticking out of the typewrite is a note. I roll it up.

    “Write without fear, roomie, write without pause. I have my door shut and my ear buds in. I know you can do this. 50,000 words GO!

    PS: Do not bribe my dog with the raisins.”

    • Pamela Hodges

      Good Morning Terri Lynn Tuttle,
      I think you can tell the future. You know what will happen on November 1st!
      You are a writer, and you will write in November. You will drink coffee, you will set your alarm, you will get up no matter what.
      A very fun read.
      Do you really have the circus tune on your phone?
      And are their raisins under your bed?
      The detail made your home come alive. I can imagine it very clearly.
      Wishing you all the best as you write daily in November.

  11. FritziGal

    Re: Robbie The Robot – The main message, I think, is that when the work isn’t going well, we feel like a barbecue grill trying to be a writer. But when things are going well, it’s a beautiful


    Hot dog!


  12. FritziGal

    Terry – If Robbie the Robot wants to take over anything, it’s probably Michael’s life. Haven’t worked out the particulars yet. Need to read a little more Stephen King.

  13. Christine

    I’ve never heard of this game before, but my Gr 4 Social Studies teacher must have, because we played “Geography” just like this. America > Alaska > Arkansas > Saskatoon…

    I did cat > tamper > read > dial.
    So I’d best write about an embezzler who tampers with some important documents. Sneaking into the office under cover of darkness, he fudges some numbers. Then he reads the fine print at the bottom of one paper and discovers a mysterious phone number. He sets the document down on the desk to dial info and find out about the phone number.

    The office cat wanders in right then and jumps up on the desk, which sends the documents fluttering over the edge and down… into the paper shredder. The embezzler lets out a shriek. Alas, the shredder has gobbled up the first page and the poor embezzler gets caught when a security agent hears the noise and comes to check it out.

    Or something like that. 🙂

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Christine,
      I love your geography game since I am from Saskatoon!
      What a fun word to read on a Saturday, miles from home, and a bit homesick.

      Your story outline sounds fun. The cat caught the bad-guy. I wonder if the cat actually is a private detective?

    • Christine

      If you’re feeling really homesick, I could write about living on Ave F S and on hot summer days slapping along the sidewalk in my 99c thongs — back when thongs were really thongs — heading down to the Riversdale Pool for a day of swimming. (You maybe went to Mayfair? Only a little puddle by comparison. 😉 )
      Or spending the day in the brick 2-storey Public Library downtown. Taking the “boardwalk” to get there, and looking down on the railway tracks. (Whoops! I forgot I’m a lot older than you.)

  14. Debra johnson

    This was fun…. My words were Clown… .nail…leaf… feather…..

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Debra,
      Your words are fun. I wonder what will happen to the clown with the nail and leaf and feather?

    • Debra johnson

      Me too actually, they are interesting words. I’ve been trying out different ideas in my writers notebook to see which to expand. Can share here if ya want

  15. Catigraph

    Liar >> Responsibility >> Yang

    It’s an unusual combination, but it still ends up in a good story, well, at least I hope so!

    Liar – Responsibility – Yang

    The girl was a liar, and everyone in town knew it. She watched from a distance, simply waiting for the one moment where her target would lower their guard, only to strike her prey and capture them in her web of deceit. So often would she steal and fight, only to stare into the eyes of her elderly and declare, “I didn’t do it, I swear!” There was nothing but monotone in her voice, as if she was reading from a script. The guardians could only contain her for so long, only to eventually free her from her crimes and force her into an impossible promise, to never commit such acts again.

    Oh, how she would plead and cry, begging for them to account for the fact that she will finally try to take responsibility, but in the end only leading them into a trap with
    +another lie. Through the beginning of the next week, she would once again seek out for adventure in the dark streets of New York and resort to violence and alcohol as her method of relief. Soon enough, her actions turn into a routine and over and over it repeats, the guardians blind to the chain and always putting their faith in her.

    To many, it seems like it will never end, but who knows, the girl might meet the Ying of her Yang one day…

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Catigraph,
      I wonder too if the girl, who is a liar, will ever end her violent ways.
      She appears to continual get people to trust her, yet she always lies.
      One day. One day. She will either stop or get caught.
      Very suspenseful.
      And, on the question of what makes a story good or not. Joe Bunting has some suggestions here. https://thewritepractice.com/write-story/

      I enjoyed reading your story, and was curious to know more.


  16. Hannah Callahan

    Ooh, this could get super addicting. I’ve been known to stare at a random assortment of kid’s magnetic letters for ridiculously long amounts of time as I challenge myself to find as many words as possible in my head.



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