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

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Why Cell Phone Novels?

cellphone

Welcome to my website on Japanese cell phone novels! In the following pages I will provide an introduction to these digital micro-novels and will also tentatively embark on a critical analysis of their cultural implications. After reading Dana Goodyear's fascinating and detailed article about Japanese cell phone novels, "Letters From Japan: I ♥ Novels," in the December 2008 issue of The New Yorker, I have been interested in delving deeper into this phenomenon. Apparently, I was not the only one intrigued by Goodyear's report from Tokyo, and a flurry of derivative articles and blog postings quickly sprouted up after it was published. For the time being, "I ♥ Novels" remains the most comprehensive overview readily available in English, while more academic treatments are either pending publication, such as Adams B. Bodomo's 2010 Computer-Mediated Communication for Linguistics and Literacy, or are only available in Japanese, such as Dr. Chiaki Ishihara's 2008 book, Keitai Shosetsu wa Bungaku Ka (Are Mobile Phone Novels Literature?). As such, this study of Japanese cell phone novels will draw upon the scattered information provided in newspaper articles and blogs in order to provide an introduction and overview to the topic that may then be examined within the context of theory surrounding multimedia literacies.

While mobile fiction is not new in Japan, North Americans have only begun to catch on to the possibility of composing and reading original fiction on mobile phones. The newly emergent nature of this genre in the West, and the corresponding lack of critical treatments, can be viewed as either a challenge or an opportunity. I hope to use this examination as a chance to theorize where the book may be headed in the future and if digital fictions, such as the Japanese cell phone novel, indeed pose a threat to literacy, as some detractors fear, or if it represents a renaissance of reading, and more opportunities to publish as well as to read for both authors and readers.

Terminology

  • Keitai Shousetsu: "Phone Novel." In Japanese, mobile phones are referred to as keitai, and the spelling of shoustetsu (novel) may vary, and is sometimes spelled shosetsu. They are also referred to as any one of the following: m-novels, cell phone novels, m-lit, mobile phone novels, cell novels, cell literature, cell phone books, and any permutation thereof.
  • Kanji: The Japanese language consists of three distinct systems. Kanji was imported from China in the first century of the last millennium, and is composed of pictograms representing ideas or words, rather than syllables. This system is much more challenging to master, and many Japanese youths are criticized for corrupting the Japanese language by writing and texting only in the two other systems, hiragana and katakana. This implications of this will be discussed on subsequent pages.

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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.