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
- The words must be nouns.
- The first letter of the word is the last letter of the last word.
- You can play with one of more people, but today you will be playing as a single player.
- 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.
- Call your friend and ask them to give you a noun.
- Page 76 in your dictionary, first column on the left, the first noun you find.
- Open your refrigerator with your eyes closed and stick your hand inside. The first item you touch is your first word.
- Take this word as a gift from me for your first word: cat.
- 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?