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Japan's middle school girls devour novels using their phones

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Sales of smart phones and electronic reading devices are strong as ever here, and one literary genre in particular continues to capture the heart of middle school girls.

Keitai shosetsu (cellphone novels) have found a steady teen following. Popular themes are romantic comedies in school settings. The novels can be read on tiny digital screens by accessing websites that publish the stories. The most popular ones are printed into books.

Nippan, Japan’s largest publication distributor, reports that the keitai bestseller in the past year was “Koisuru Akuma” (“Devil in Love”). The short paperback is about high-schooler Akane and her handsome, straight-A boyfriend, Tose, who sometimes has a nasty temper.

Author “Ayu” is a 20-something mom of two whose real identity is kept under wraps. Such anonymity is characteristic of this genre.

Media-sharing website Maho i-Land boasts 1 million online books and 6 million users who read and/or write novels on the website for free. Many users tap away and compose using their cellphones, simply following a word limit of 1,000 or less characters per page. Budding authors can choose to “publish” their online story immediately or keep it unlisted. Many upload their content as they finish and choose to receive feedback from readers. Authors respond to feedback by fixing mistakes and sometimes changing the story lines. The most successful authors get their stories printed.

Keitai novels make up a roughly $36 million market annually,” says Shigeru Matsushima, an editor at Starts Publishing Co.

When these novels first became popular, gritty stories were the mainstream. More recently, they include happy endings, perhaps reflecting a desire to fantasize about better times.


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