This is an interesting article about Japanese culture and cellphone novels that some of you may enjoy. It’s both enlightening and slightly depressing, but those of you who are familiar with the source (The New Yorker) may already be aware of that tendency.

At first it introduces the story of a young woman who wrote a keitai novel on a whim and posted it electronically to the internet. Even though it was unedited, raw, and unplanned, it was so successful that the printed version made the top 10 list of literary hardbacks sold in 2007.

This article discusses the origins of this cellular genre and its rise in modern day Japan, especially for young women. 2-chan gets a shoutout, as well as Pynchon, Tarantino, and many established Japanese literary giants. I think it has found a niche in the world quite separate from the literary circles it only pretends to want to enter. The article suggests the entire genre fits more appropriately into the spoken story-telling tradition, and even compares it to the Tale of Genji in a school setting instead of a court and palace.

I myself have had some exposure to this cellphone-age phenomenon, but my initial reaction was more along the lines of “wtf is this?” – and promptly went back to reading language books and novels that make up the bulk of my belongings. Well, the electronic novels themselves may not suit everyone’s tastes, but the article is a very interesting read and gives some great insight into both modern and historical literacy in Japan. It doesn’t relate directly to anime, but it’s a close cousin, and satiates the needs of my Random Curiosity.

Artwork at left courtesy of くろぶた on pixiv (account needed to access).


  1. This feels really really weird… May be it is because I am more comfortable with the idea of normal novels (I still prefer them over the like of the popular light novels). However, if this mobile novel is within reach (in English or my language), I don’t mind trying. It might be good.

  2. They format them pretty well so it’s really easy to read. In a related genre, you can also read manga on your cellphone in exactly the same way. Admittedly, that’s what I was looking for when I stumbled across the novels.

    Like the “novels,” it’s harder to find big name manga, and much more common to find people who are aspiring artists instead. (It’s also more common to find porno manga, so if you’re wondering what the guy next to you on the train is doing with his phone instead of a manga, I guarantee it’s the same thing.)

    They mention it’s possible to do the same thing on iphones and such, but the English language is a bit behind, I think. Blogs as a constantly updated short novel might hold a candle to it, but I haven’t seen many instances of those turning to printed books yet. If anyone has some good examples, feel free to share.

  3. I remember hearing about this a few years back about cellphone novels being so popular from my Japanese professor. I think its great but I don’t want to read on my cellphone all the

  4. Cellphones in Japan are very advanced so some of the functions that allow these cell phone novels to be carry out might not be available elsewhere. Thus, cell phone novels might be less likely to appear outside of Japan. But you never really know though. I’m sure other countries might or will have their own version of novel sharing that’s similar.
    This is not completely related but Mone’s reason for writing remind me of something I read in my history books about how some ancient Japanese women became famous for their writing. From what I can remember, the Tale of Genji (which is becoming an anime this winter) by the noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu was written out of loneliness(Japanese women were isolated in the house in her time) and later became one of Japan’s most beloved. It’s interesting how unhappiness can lead women to write hit novels.

  5. Jayers – very true. But I think I might agree with someone in the article who said these women (whose writing connects with the feelings of women all over Japan through this subject matter) seem to be reinforcing negative gender roles, such as the “sex = pain, and a woman’s life is full of pain” thing.

    It’s almost like the unhappiness being vented into a pop culture phenomenon is promoting the acceptance of your crappy fate or role in life (as a woman). And girls across Japan are just eating it up, sympathizing with the plights of the girls in the stories. That’s why I thought it was depressing. I’d be happier if the stories were changing attitudes instead of holding them back.

  6. Meh. Never a big fan of the ‘cellphone culture’ and probably never will be. I guess the reason why it works in Japan more so than in many other nations is because of the massive commute, public life the Japanese live while Americans and many other nationals tends to focus quite a bit more on the home-life when it comes down to leisure.

  7. @Trillian

    I have to agree with the whole self-deprecation of women in Japan and in many Asian nations in general really. There has been polls that says that Asian women feel almost ashamed of being female or have low self esteem compared to Western women.

    Also, though rape and such stories are serious and can happen, I wonder about a yet another popular female writer writing about her own life or creating a fiction revolving around negativity. I guess that’s what gets attention I guess. I honestly do not understand the morbid fascination many in the literary world goes after. It’s not so different from being ‘moved’ only because there’s violence and negativity involved. Unfortunately, the Japanese do seem to eat those up. Especially when it’s aimed at women. Very sad and in my opinion, downright morally wrong.

  8. I don’t find the concept very weird. Actually I just started manually formatting some electronic articles/novels/whatever I like into documents that can be read comfortably on an iPod Touch’s screen. I transfer them onto my iTouch; this way I can read my stuff anywhere and anytime.

    Of course, I still love reading physical books more, but this is convenient and you don’t have to carry around books or printouts. Though, I wouldn’t read novels on a cellphone, unless it has a particularly big screen.


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