Keitai Shousetsu: A Study of Japan's Mobile Phone Fiction

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Introduction

Context

Keitai Shousetsu: Who, What, How?

Keitai Shousetsu and Participatory Culture

Bestsellers and Crossovers

Praise and Criticism

Cell Phone Novels Outside of Japan

Reflection

Works Cited

Bestsellers and Crossovers: Famous Keitai Shousetsu

In 2007, literary types across the world were stunned to find out that five of the top ten best-selling books in Japan were initially self-published online by first-time authors who composed the texts on their mobile phones. This page introduces these bestselling keitai shousetsu.

  • Mone's Eternal Dream: Sold 200,000 print copies, and has been accessed online nearly 3 million times as of 2008. A sequel has sold 80,000 copies. However, as she admitted in a rare interview, the author has made less than 200,000 dollars from her writing career (Goodyear 66). Eternal Dream tells the story of Saki, a small-town high school student who is abducted and gang-raped by three strangers one day after school. Love blossoms when a male schoolmate finds her abandoned on the side of the road.

  • Mei's The Red Thread: Sold two million copies and was adapted for a television series and feature film in 2008. Tells the tale of a doomed romance between two middle school students.

  • Mika's Koizora series, or Love Sky and Love Sky 2: Viewed 12 million times online, and has been adapted for manga, television, and film. This was one of the first keitai novels to be advertised on television. The plot revolves around Mika and her crush, Hiro. The story is typically disturbing and melodramatic. Mika is gang-raped and then gets pregnant but suffers a miscarriage. Hiro abruptly breaks up with Mika, as he is dying from cancer and wants only to protect her from the pain of his death. After his death, she realizes she is pregnant again, and once more suffers a miscarriage. Heavy stuff!
    Sample text:
    A smile
    "God, I am so hungry ♫"
    Finally lunch time. Felt like I'd been waiting forever.
    Same as always, Mika put
    her lunchbox on her desk and opened it.
    School is a drag.
    The only thing I like about it is eating with Aya and Yuka, my friends from class.
    -Mika Tahara-
    She's a freshman, who started at this school in April.
    It hasn't even been three months
    since she got here.
    (translated by Ben Dooley)

  • Rin's If You: Written when Rin was in high school, while commuting to her part-time job. According to Ruth Cox Clark, "Rin admits she had never written anything other than text and instant messages prior to her cell phone novel. Nonetheless, her novel, full of emoticons, published as a 142-page hardcover book, sold more than 400,000 copies as of early 2008" (online).
    Sample Text:
    I'm short,
    I'm stupid,
    I'm not pretty,
    I'm rubbish,
    and I've got no dreams.
    (online)

Crossovers into Print

"With the awful state of publishing, to sell a hundred thousand copies is a big deal. For a previously unpublished, completely unknown author to sell two million copies - that got everyone's attention"
Satovi Yoshida, qtd in Goodyear, 64

In a shocking reversal of contemporary trends in the publishing industry, popular cell phone novels are being published in print form and have been acknowledged as saviors to what was recently a dying industry. The commercial success of the somewhat costly hardcover versions has been a source of confusion to the literary elite and media in Japan, who cannot decide whether they are horrified or relieved at this unusual resuscitation of publishing and reading. Most major bookstores in Japan now have separate keitai shousetsu sections, lending cell phone novels a grudging legitimacy as a genre. So why are fans buying print copies of novels they have already consumed in digital form? According to Mayumi Sato, editor at Goma Books, "often it's because they email suggestions and criticisms to the author on the novel website as the story is unfolding, so they feel like they've contributed to the final product, and they want a hardcopy keepsake of it" (qtd. in Norrie). The deeply felt personal connection to the digital version of the book manifests itself as a desire to possess the printed book as a keepsake in a tangible form.

Physically, the printed books mimic many of the features of their digital counterparts. As on the cell phone screen, the horizontal lines on the page read left to right, rather than the vertical right to left script of standard Japanese books. The ink, as Goodyear notes, is often colored or grey, as black text is believed to be too aggressive or imposing (65-66). The generous spacing of the original text is reproduced on the printed page, as are emoticons and other symbols. Again, critics of the genre lament the potential of these details, particularly the horizontal text, to sully the integrity of Japanese literature. If the newer generations prefer reading in this Westernized fashion, what will happen to traditional Japanese ways of reading and writing? Will local practices be absorbed by the all-consuming maw of globalization? Many critics fear that this will indeed be the case.

Go to the next page to find out more about the literacy debate surrounding keitai shousetsu.

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This paper was originally written in December 2009 by Brianna Erban for LIS 585: Multimedia Literacies. This revised version was submitted to fulfill the requirements for LIS 600: Capping Exercise at the School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Last updated May 6, 2010.