At this point, everyone should know that Japanese people like their cell phones. In Japan, we are seeing a decline in personal computer use and a bigger interest in more versatile mobiles (the video’s a fake, but there’s still a lot of truth in it, nonetheless). On Japanese phones there are coupon scanners, television tuners (for at least the last 5-6 years), cell phone internet speeds faster than America will ever achieve (well, maybe if Japan shares), and so much more. The point is, Japanese cell phones are the s**t, and American cell phones are not.
This morning I read this article. It was early and I was feeling a little bleary-eyed. I scanned through it and thought that it said that half of Japanese top-10 books are read on cell phones. “Okay, great,” I thought. “This sounds about right.” Americans, even, are starting to enjoy the flexibility of reading e-books on their cell phones, not to mention Amazon’s new Kindle. Granted, I was surprised that Japan was only this far ahead. Normally when it comes to cell phones and technology (and ninjas) we have to look up to them like a third-world nation. The fact is, I was totally off, and I was totally blown away by the real story, which was this:
It turns out that the article was not talking about people reading their books on cell phones. That is old news. That has been going on for years and years. The story here is that people are writing novels on cell phones. They are sitting down with their little 9-key phones and typing something up at unimaginable speeds with their tiny, muscly, fingers tapping in sinewy abandon. The most remarkable part of this is that half of Japan’s top-ten books during the first six months of this year were written on cell phones. The next thing I wanted to know was how people are actually writing these. Rin (pen name), who has sold 420,000 hard cover copies of her 142-page novel Moshimo Kimiga (If You …), says this:
“I typed it all on my mobile phone,” Rin explains matter-of-factly over the same device. “I started writing novels on my mobile when I was in junior high school and I got really quick with my thumbs, so after a while it didn’t take so long. I never planned to be a novelist, if that’s what you’d call me, so I’m still quite shocked at how successful it’s turned out.”
I’m shocked too, honestly. How could books like this become so popular? The reason is this:
Usually they are written by first-time writers, using one-name pseudonyms, for an audience of young female readers – who, in Japan especially, consult their mobile phones so regularly that the habit could be mistaken for a tic. The stories traverse teen romance, sex, drugs and other adolescent terrain in a succession of clipped one-liners, emoticons and spaces (used to show that a character is thinking), all of which can be read easily on a mobile phone interface. Scene and character development are notably missing…
Toru Ishikawa, a professor of Japanese literature at Tokyo’s Keio University, points out that Japanese mobile phones allow their owners only a limited selection of kanji, the Chinese characters regarded by Japanese as more intellectually demanding than their native syllabary. “The size of the screen also necessitates that [authors] use short, simple sentences with basic words. If that’s how you measure the quality of literature, then yes, the prevalence of writing like this will water down Japanese literature.
Emoticons are the really startling thing. Even I, as someone who is fairly liberal with his writing style (tofugu is a poor example of this supposed liberalism) am shocked and displeased with the idea of a novel being written with emoticons. Then again Japanese emoticons are ridiculously detailed and include more content than a burlap bag full of bobcats, so maybe there is some weight to their “dirty” writing.
One of the neat things about these cell-phone written books is the contributions that fans make.
“It might seem strange that young readers are going out and buying the book after they’ve already read the story on their mobile. 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.”
I’m not sure what I particularly think about these kinds of novels. I’m not a big fan of lolz-internets talk, which I would say is the rough equivalent to these cell phone novels. Then again, language does change over time, and as generations get older certain things become standard and others become old (kind of like the way my parents talk). Even so, I can’t help but think this is very similar to the genbunitchi (言文一致) movement back during the Meiji Era, where Japanese literary giants decided that they should write the way they speak (instead of like eg0-tripping elite samurai), and that was a huge and irritating change for them as well. Crazy hippies.
I hope to God, though, that we don’t begin writing with 5ymb01s and number5. Reading a novel like that sounds almost as inconvenient as writing a novel on your cell phone.