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SA Partridge

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Hot text: Japanese teens like it racy

I had to post this fascinating article from the UK Sunday Times on Japanese youth reading culture.

In a bid to raise teen interest in her cellphone novel, one author is adding sex to sell. And its working.

From The Sunday Times
February 14, 2010
Hot txt: Keitai Shosetsu’s racy mobile novel is a hit
Michael Sheridan, Far East Correspondent

Not all the young Japanese glued to their super-sophisticated mobile phones on Tokyo’s underground are texting their excuses home. They are just as likely to be reading a 15-year-old girl’s hit novel written purely for mobile phone users and designed to be read on tiny screens.

“Bunny” — as the online author calls herself — is the star of Japan’s latest literary vogue, the keitai shosetsu, or mobile phone novel, with her work Wolf Boy and Natural Girl.

With more than an echo of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, it tells of a pretty teenage girl’s crush on a handsome but heartless boy.

Although it is the stuff of a thousand paperback romances, this one has caught the mood among Japan’s notoriously fickle young audience.
Tapped out character by character on Bunny’s keyboard, the saga of shyness and cruelty expanded to three volumes. Its popularity led to the publication of a printed book version which has sold more than 110,000 copies and made almost £400,000.

Bunny claims to be a typical suburban teenager who eats at McDonald’s and enjoys taking wacky pictures of herself and her friends in photo booths. She is one of many aspiring novelists in the keitai shosetsu literary wave.

The craze took off thanks to a website that allows users to upload chunks of text to a webpage. The narratives are then pasted into complete online novels and delivered to mobile phones. Keitai have three typical features: short paragraphs, “emoticon” symbols such as smiles and teen angst dialogue — a lot of it.

“I only kissed her because I felt like it at the time … There’s no way there’d be any other reason,” says the anti-hero.

In volume one, the demure Miku Takahata is forcibly kissed by Shun Amamiya on her first day at boarding school. The pair find themselves elected to an elite club of pupils. By the end she is allowing his kisses.
The second volume chronicles their move into a special boarding house reserved for the prettiest girls and most handsome boys. The rooms have kitchenettes. The first meal she cooks for Shun is stew.

Devotees of Twilight’s chaste romances should stop reading here. By volume three, Miku and Shun are having sex. In the epilogue, Miku’s imagination runs free to picture them as a happy couple with Shun working as a salaryman and Miku running a cooking school for housewives.

There is worse. “Wolf” is described as a prince and as a “fierce S”, meaning sadist, for the violence of his kisses.
Readers’ reactions include one saying: “Shun is super, dangerous to M [masochist] girls like me.”

It is this undertone, reflecting a Japanese subculture of sadomasochistic pornography, that distinguishes Wolf Boy from the crowd of slushy keitai novels on screens.

Bunny’s reticence has even had some Japanese internet users questioning whether she is really the precocious schoolgirl she claims to be.

Mothers seem unruffled by their daughters’ taste in such novels. But teachers have been concerned by surveys purporting to show that many teenage girls read mobile novels to the exclusion of anything else.
As for critics, they are unimpressed by the abbreviation and coarsening of grammar and style in literary Japanese. “This genre is like fast food. No new literature will come from it but it will continue to be consumed by girls,” said Akiko Nakamori, a columnist in the Asahi newspaper.

Some entrepreneurial publishers are hoping Wolf Boy will be the precursor of a lucrative franchise to rival the success of the Twilight vampire novels. “We’ll just have to wait until a really talented author appears,” said Tetsuya Ohkubo, a director at Shueisha, the leading publisher.

That — and a Japanese Robert Pattinson.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    February 23rd, 2010 @10:21 #

    Interesting, the whole question of sex in writing geared for teens. It's not new (K.M. Peyton's Pennington novels from the 1970s revolve around a teen pregnancy and shotgun marriage between the hero and heroine); John Marsden's heroic teens in his Tomorrow When the War Began series are all sleeping with one other (they use condoms religiously). But these are adult authors. Here it seems the author is 15? I had far more problems with the notion of segregation for the pretty and the handsome, and the playing housie-housie. Is that all teens dream of?

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    February 23rd, 2010 @11:31 #

    Its a depressing thought but I suppose one has to get with the times. Kids get up to all manner of dubious things these days and they expect their programming and literature to reflect that.

  • ar
    February 23rd, 2010 @15:10 #

    Well, I don’t know much about Japan. It’s the birthplace of Manga and the home of Harajuku, isn't it? And of robot dog toys designed to provide lonely people with interactive company, and Tamagotchi, in fact, remember, which you had to love and feed and nurture else it got sick or even died. Stylised, idealised, romanticised, are all words that come to mind here. We know there's this increasing physical disconnection of real humans from other real humans everywhere, despite digital over-connection. Housie housie fantasies are scratching that itch perhaps. But we played housie housie ourselves down the bottom of the real-life garden long before Harajuku and texting and tamagotchi. I dunno.

    The times have changed so enormously haven't they, but the humans haven’t changed a bit. Kids still getting up to all manner of dubious things and still playing housie housie.

  • ar
    February 23rd, 2010 @18:19 #

    Sorry, I’m going to bang on about this.

    Things you can do with a tamagotchi, memory refreshed by tamagochi website:

    Feeding the Tamagotchi a piece of food or a snack.
    Playing games with the Tamagotchi.
    Cleaning up a Tamagotchi's waste.
    Checking its age, discipline, hunger, happiness and other statistics.
    Connecting with other friends
    Marrying other tamagotchis

    Yes, you can marry your Tamagotchi off.

    It freaked me out when my kids were little. I deeply resented having to babysit these ridiculous things (and boy did I have to, you can’t fight a craze like that, doting grandparents will introduce all sorts of things and you are powerless against it, there are even snaps in the family album of me with them hanging around my neck on chains). I was often depressed by the feeling that all attempts to get daughters to perceive that they were more than just feeders and servants were being sabotaged by these sorts of toys, and by the world at large in fact.

    So if South African kids (girl kids. Boy kids were not as into Tamagochis as the girls were, the boys who had them lost interest pretty quickly but the girls stayed obsessed for quite a while, like three whole months or something) were so in love with Tamagotchis and all they represent, I’m assuming Japanese kids were too. Childhood toys do play a part in shaping a person’s psyche. Guns, barbie, tamagotchi... lego, scalectrix, whatever. Sticks, stones, kleilat, clay creatures by the river on a lazy Sunday. Dressing up boxes with granny’s feathers and beads. They shape adults, kid’s toys do. Late nite etv was a kid’s toy at one stage, in the school I so carefully and mistakenly selected for mine. Too many parents are oblivious. MXit is a kid’s toy.

    Like I said before, I don’t know much about Japan. But I know enough about South Africa fifteen years ago to know that a very few lucky South African girl children had other things to balance the barbie and the tamagotchi. There are some extremely privileged (in ways not only relating to money) South African girl teens and young adults who do not aspire to housie housie feed and slave. Far too many who still do, though, who never even SAW a Tamagotchi but did see late nite etv and know mxit well. Very tricky.

    The more I think about this, the more heads it gets and the more I get a headache.
    I hope this thread gets as long as the last really long one because I’d like to find out more about this from people who can string a sentence together.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    February 23rd, 2010 @19:27 #

    I plead ignorance of child-rearing. However (and this may be sour grapes), the further I get away from that ghastly Marinaras Trench year in which the medical profession and my own body ganged up on me and voted finally against childbearing, the more I have moments of being thankful I don't have children. Sorry, AR, you've caught me in a bad space: as you know I read Cormac McCarthy's The Road a few weeks ago, and then I made the huge horrible mistake of reading Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin last weekend. The cumulative effect was to make me very very glad I wasn't a parent, but NOT in a good way. I often dreamed of a daughter: but jeez, if I had one whose major fantasy involved cooking her handsome, cold-hearted boyfriend dinner... *red spots dance in front of eyes*

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    February 23rd, 2010 @20:58 #

    Romeo and Juliet were fifteen. that is the age of the most unbelievable hormonal surges - so quite normal for them to be obsessed with sex. and identity. Part of that is a rather obsessive (from an adult's perspective) identification with one gender. Girls get fantatically girly - and boys the same. they practically teargas themselves with deoderant and hair spray. And then many move on to more nuanced gender roles. Imagine the shock: you're a little person and then you sprout dangly bits and now what? You play it to the limit. there are dangers, of course, but then teenage girls move on. I have three (one has in fact de-teened already: she's twenty) but the obsession with girly stuff passes and gets ditched in the recycling along with starved Tamagochis and old Barbies and plastic horses. And I quite miss them. There is some dinner cooking, sure, but it is often followed with reciprocal washing up. And most girls are bright enough to know that the cooking is the fun bit, cleaning up after is not. so I would say dont take it too seriously. And much of it will pass. Girls are brighter than they look.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    February 24th, 2010 @09:09 #

    If I think back to my own teenage years, I didn't have anything to read but adult books, such as Stephen King. No complaints here - no one does teenage angst better than the King himself. In the late nineties there was a huge surge in the market of literature that actually dealt with teenage issues, like the L.J. Smith novels. This trend was reflected in television when shows like Dawson's Creek came on air. If you look at how media is changing, you can see can how youth culture has changed. Instead of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, kids are watching The O.C and Gossip Girl and Skins. Youth fiction has also upgraded. I can see the how books like Twilight have gained popularity. It appeals to kids' sense of romanticism, their sense of being misunderstood by everyone and most adults just don't get it.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Kathryn</a>
    February 24th, 2010 @09:42 #

    I wonder if this text / mobile book/ whatever you call it has "he x into her y" lines or if it's the synecdoche vibe.


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