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

Keitai Shousetsu and Participatory Culture

"A participatory culture is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one's creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known is passed on to novices...members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another"
Henry Jenkins

Texting Girl

According to the criteria outlined above by Jenkins, keitai shousetsu is a creative and distinctly Japanese form of participatory culture where the barrier between consumer and producer is minimized. Readers and writers are strongly encouraged and compelled to interact with one another on the host websites such as Maho no i-rando, where thriving online communities post messages to communal forums and authors' message boards. Clark insists, "cell phone writing and reading is a social event" where authors interact with readers who suggest plot twists, dialogue, and other input (online). Prompted either by these tips or by declining access tallies, authors can tweak their novels to better please their readers, who then feel as though they played an integral part in the writing process. Vicki Chavis comments on the interactivity of keitai shousetsu: "What makes the cell phone novel interactive is the instant communication between author and reader. Readers can leave comments the author can respond to. If the author notices less people reading as the story progresses, he can immediately take action to change the plot" (online). When a cell phone novel becomes a bestseller, fans who provided input feel a personal connection to the book, and, as will be discussed on the next page, will be driven to buy the print version as a memento of their involvement.

One of the main attractions of keitai shousetsu is their accessibility. The genre is participatory, democratic, open, and supportive. Many readers who, like their favorite authors, had never written anything beyond emails and school assignments have been inspired to pick up their phones as well, opening the previously closed gates of the literary world to anyone who owns a mobile phone - and in Japan, that's just about everybody! (Goodyear 63). Mizuko Ito describes this type of phenomenon as "cultural production," where "those previously constructed as consumers are now distributing digital media to audiences without an intermediary" ("Technologies" 2). Cultural gatekeepers such as editors and publishers no longer maintain authority over what may or may not be consumed by the masses, as texts wildly proliferate in collaborative and interactive online networks, such as these mobile phone novel hosting sites. Lev Grossman's entertaining article, "Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature," comments on this post-capitalist, post-consumer method of publication, and prophesies a future wherein self-publishing will knock down the elitism of the publishing industry: "more books, written and read by more people, often for little or no money, circulating in a wild diversity of forms, both physical and electronic, far outside the charmed circle of New York City's entrenched publishing culture" (online). While this is yet to happen on a large scale in North America, Japan is already well on its way to this stage, with keitai shousetsu slowly diversifying into an array of genres besides romance, including non-fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, and horror.

EBook Readers

Although worthy of its own separate paper, the struggle of e-books and e-book devices to gain a strong foothold in North America should be mentioned at this point. Cell phone novels rose to popularity in a culture highly dependent on and adept with mobile devices capable of numerous functions. It is highly doubtful that keitai shousetsu would have caught on had they been limited to running on a specially-designed reading device. Cell phones were already in the pockets of almost every young Japanese girl, who felt deeply involved in the development of the keitei shousetsu stories as she felt, in part, that she had helped to write them. The North American mind-frame remains mired in a 19th century version of publishing and reading, where editors act as gatekeepers who release select books to readers who passively consume them. Ultimately, e-books and e-book devices merely mimic a publishing model that has been proven to be increasingly obsolete in the 21st century. Sherman Young suggests, "instead of seeking to make an e-book culture a replacement for print culture, effectively placing the reading of books in a silo separated from other day-to-day activities, it might be better to situate e-books within a mobility culture, as part of a burgeoning range of social activities revolving around a connected, convergent mobile device" (online). Certain iPhone applications, like Stanza, represent a move towards the integration of reading into other day-to-day practices, such as checking email and playing digital games. However, the West is still a step behind Japan in terms of creating an accessible, attractive, and interactive participatory culture around books and reading. The final page will provide some links and a brief summary of participatory digital book culture in the West.

Please proceed to the next page for a brief introduction to some popular keitai shousetsu titles.

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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.