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Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies

Vol. 26, No. 3, June 2012, 475485

The landscape of keitai shosetsu: Mobile phones as a literary medium

among Japanese youth
Kyoung-hwa Yonnie Kim*
The Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, the University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
With the increasing use of text messages on mobile phones, mobile media are
becoming increasingly utilized in conjunction with literary communication in addition
to oral conversation. In order to explore the landscape of mobile phones as a literary
medium in Japan, this article looks into the phenomenon of keitai shosetsu (keitai is
a Japanese term for mobile phones and shosetsu means novel, thus keitai shosetsu
literally becomes mobile novel), which is gaining popularity among young Japanese
females. This study, which approaches the concept of keitai shosetsu from the
perspective of a cultural practice, identifies the experiences of readers and writers as
a key context through which to understand this phenomenon within urban space. While
relying primarily on ongoing ethnographic reports, additional factors such as social
discourses surrounding keitai shosetsu and the industrial factors needed to form the
external context will also be delved upon. Finally, some reflection will be offered on
how mobile media are intervening in individuals daily experiences, thereby evoking
another cultural moment in the techno-social landscape. The article attempts to explore
how Japanese youngsters have been able to translate and modify mobile technology by
creating a unique literary practice.

Recent scholarship on the proliferation of mobile technologies has been concentrated on
revealing new patterns of social display in terms of the adoption of new forms of wireless
communication. For example, underpinned by research conducted in multiple societies,
Katz and Aakhus (2002) found that the mobile and personal communications technology is
socially transformative, affecting peoples interactive behaviours and social relations.
Meanwhile, Ling and Campbells work (2008), which constitutes an attempt to deepen
Castells (1989) study on the impact of mobile communications, argues that mobile
technology has contributed to the reconstruction of our understanding of time and space. As
multimedia modes of mobile technology are adopted in various contexts, they are becoming
the catalyst for new and advanced patterns of media consumption (Goggin and Hjorth
2009). Much has been touted about the emergence of new types of social practices, media
consumption and new senses around mobile technology but what is the reality of its uses?
And is it so clear that mobile technology actually changed peoples cultural practices?
Despite the enthusiasm and the novelty surrounding mobile media, ordinary peoples
practices have not always corresponded with the newness and novelty of the technology. For
instance, a reliable survey (Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization
2009) released in Japan, an acknowledged testing ground for the latest most cutting-edge
mobile technology, suggests that the proliferation of such new uses for mobile technologies

ISSN 1030-4312 print/ISSN 1469-3666 online
q 2012 Taylor & Francis


K.Y. Kim

has not been as extensive as has heretofore been assumed. This survey goes on to state that
among young residents of Tokyo between the ages of 16 and 24 years, an age group
regularly categorized as digital natives, more than half stated that they never watch
broadcasting on mobile platforms (61.9%) and never access video-sharing web sites on
mobile platforms (56.6%). This can be contrasted with the 77.4% of respondents who
answered that they send text messages through their mobile phones almost daily. Although
the photo-taking function has been widely adopted by users of all ages seeking to bring
about the personal archiving of visual images (Kato et al. 2005), not every multimedia
feature has been consumed to such a considerable extent. Data rather show that mobile
phones have become increasingly central for literary communications among Japanese
young people. Following his investigation of the social deployment of mobile phones in
Japan, the Japanese sociologist Suzuki (2008) concluded that these items should be
described as a portable email terminal rather than as telephony with mobility.
One presumable reason for the reluctance to consume new features in Japan is the
relatively expensive billing system used in conjunction with data telecommunication on
mobile broadband. In fact, from around 2004 when a flat-rate packet billing system for data
telecommunication was introduced, the consumption of mobile broadband has gradually
increased. However, even after the economic burden was lessened, the tendency to use mobile
phones as a literary medium has continued and in some cases has even been reinforced.
This should not necessarily be taken to mean that users are lagging behind the progress
of technological development. Rather, it could be seen as an indication that the public
discourse and discussion on mobile media have been asymmetrically focused on functional
improvements and the introduction of new technology. This, in turn, suggests the need for
research that moves away from existing discourses around the socio-cultural significance of
technological development per se and focuses instead on how people actually accept the
technology, transforming it into a certain practice within their everyday lives.
In this article, I explore a mobile media phenomenon among Japanese young people
referred to as the mobile or portable novel or keitai shosetsu, a user-created literature
written and read exclusively on the mobile Internet. I will demonstrate some of the ways
Japanese young people translate and manage mobile technology in their everyday practices
and how they feel about the technology. I will also consider if mobile technology has
brought about new types of media cultures and, if so, what these are and how are they
mapping onto the media landscape. The themes and issues explored in the article are
underpinned by the argument that we need to contextualize technological phenomenon in
terms of usual and actual practices, in order to understand it from the standpoint of peoples
experience rather than how the technology affects people.
Mobile phones as a literary medium
Despite worrying and controversial discourses on the relationship between mobile phones and
youth in Japan (see Matsuda 2010), it has become evident that mobile phones, or keitai (the
Japanese term for mobile phones1), have become an essential part of young Japanese peoples
lives, a denouement that has led to the creation of a unique keitai culture. The keitai shosetsu
(as shosetsu means novel in English, keitai shosetsu literally means mobile novel or
portable novel), which has rapidly gained popularity among the younger generation of
Japanese, can be categorized as one of the prominent elements of this keitai culture.
Like other interactive literature, the keitai shosetsu is usually written by voluntary
amateur authors, shared on a specialized web site (or BBS), and read by audiences as they
are being created. Authors often receive responses and comments from readers about their

Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies


ongoing stories, which in turn often result in the formation of collaborative authorship
between authors and audiences. The keitai shosetsu aggregation sites in effect serve as
a literature portal by providing links through which individual stories can be accessed as
well as genre directories. Writing, reading, and sharing comments on keitai shosetsu
constitute a new modality in terms of individual enjoyment and entertainment.
According to a June 2010 online survey, young females, in particular those in their late
teens to early twenties, represent the overwhelming majority of the consumers of such works.2
Within the Japanese social discourse, women have been regarded as lagging behind cuttingedge technological trends unless these are related to feminine genres such as fashion and
cosmetics. However, in spite of the non-feminine image of mobile technology, females are
in fact playing a leading role in the case of creative activities such as keitai shosetsu. As Hjorth
(2009) points out in her ethnographic work on Japanese mobile culture, keitai shosetsu may be
one example of the hyperfeminine characteristics of the keitai culture.
One of the key features of keitai shosetsu is that these activities take place on mobile
phones, a phenomenon that helps explain its unique naming. The majority of keitai shosetsu
consumers chose keitai as their favourite platform for keitai shosetsu. In the survey result
mentioned above, 56% of the consumers of such works were reading them on keitai,
a percentage that greatly surpassed the 30.4% who were reading them on PCs and the mere
3% who were consuming them on smart phones. These numbers are important because PCs
and smart phones are generally considered as a more suitable terminal for writing or reading
long literature. Although no extensive survey of keitai shosetsu authors has to date been
conducted, in my ethnographic investigation, I see many writers also cling to keitai as their
creation platform. This is because the literary styles and format of keitai literature are well
known and correspond particularly well with the interface of mobile phones. Most keitai
shosetsu websites are best viewed on Japanese domestic keitai models whose screens are
vertically rectangular, small, and mostly of the flip-close variety (Figure 1). Even in cases
where it is accessed from a PC browser, the keitai shosetsu webpage is presented in a vertical

Figure 1. An interviewee (G, female, 25, college student)s keitai shosetsu website viewed on
keitai. Source: Author.


K.Y. Kim

Figure 2. Koizora website accessed from web browser of personal computer. Accessed and
captured on 27 October 2009 by author.

rectangular table that provides views that look like the screen of a keitai (Figure 2). This
characteristic also seems to affect the process of configuring the story as well.
Paying close attention to its consumption process, this article will explore how the literary
practice known as keitai shosetsu becomes a critical mechanism through which young
Japanese females can coordinate their personal media experiences. As keitai shosetsu
involves a wide range of literary communication such as reading, writing, or sharing
comments on mobile phones, one key question is concerned with the need to approach mobile
phones as a literary medium. In this regard, this has heretofore been a relatively ignored issue
that has been overwhelmed by discourses over the novelty of mobile technology. I see keitai
shosetsu as occupying a hidden niche within the keitai culture of Japanese youth, and as one
which not only shows how mobile technology is actively translated within peoples ordinary
experiences, but also evokes a different cultural moment. Consequently, through the
elaboration of its cultural aspect, this article will try to reveal this hidden dimension of mobile
technology, one which exists independently of techno-centric discourses.
Literary spaces within urban places
Keitai shosetsu in social context
Keitai shosetsu got its start in 2000 when Maho No Airando, an online community service
provider in Japan, launched a keitai-specialized blog platform featuring a story writing
channel. This was shortly after NTT DoCoMo, a large Japanese mobile operator, launched
i-mode in 1999, thereby becoming the first mobile phone with Internet access in the world.
Although i-mode rapidly penetrated society and became a pervasive media phenomenon,
keitai shosetsu took more than five years to become popular enough to be recognized as
a new type of digital content. Momentum was built following the commercial success of
a keitai shosetsu work entitled Koizora that was shared on Maho No Airandos website by an
amateur author. The continued popularity of this literature on the website resulted in it being

Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies


transformed into a printed book in 2005. This undertaking turned out to be a great success,
selling more than a million copies along the way. Inspired by this success, Koizora was
reproduced in other media forms such as manga, TV drama, and a movie, all of which,
impressively enough, also yielded satisfactory results. Its commercial success is partly
related to its distributional structure, in that the interactive authorship of keitai shosetsu
often brings forth loyal readers who are willing to not only subscribe in cyberspace, but also
purchase a paper copy of the book in order to own a digital and a physical copy. The
commercial success of Koizora brought to the forefront the fact that millions of young
consumers were in fact producing and consuming keitai shosetsu as well as exchanging
opinions about such creations. It was against such high expectations of its marketability that
keitai shosetsu emerged as a social phenomenon in 2006.
Meanwhile, having gained social recognition as a new media fashion among Japanese
youngsters, keitai shosetsu has also found itself the subject of social criticism and public
anxiety. Keitai shosetsu often deals with sensational issues such as teenage sex, group
bullying in the school, rape, teen pregnancy, and abortion; all of which are hardly acceptable
for teens reality in the Japanese social context. Furthermore, keitai shosetsu, whose writing
styles are often centred on a series of conversations or short emotional expressions, tend to
contain grammatically broken or misspelled words. The combination of unrealistic story
composition and poor background explanations, as well as the use of unskilled and juvenile
expressions, has made keitai shosetsu the target of severe criticism from professional writers
and critics alike. Amidst the perceived social problem of keitai-addiction among young
people, the critical discourse often escalates to blame social malfunctions on new media.
The incorrect use of the Japanese language frequently found in keitai shosetsu has been
exaggerated to the extent that it was perceived in some quarters as a serious problem that
moulded Japanese youngsters social attitudes. Eventually, keitai shosetsu has been
regarded as a sort of false literature supported only by immature youngsters.
The amount of attention paid to keitai shosetsu at the societal level has declined of late
amidst sluggish sales of keitai shosetsu inspired books since 2009. Only a few of the keitai
shosetsu works published in paperback form in the aftermath of the runaway success of
Koizora have in fact sold well. In this regard, while social discourses tend to regard keitai
shosetsu as a phenomenon that has run its course, Maho No Airando, the biggest keitai
shosetsu distributor, continues to garner more than 1 billion page views per month on its
keitai shosetsu channel. Moreover, dozens of commercial keitai shosetsu websites
continue to operate at a profit, setting them apart from a Japanese content market that is
struggling to cope amidst falling profits. The emergence of keitai shosetsu certainly
disturbed the privileged position of traditional and conservative literary circles in Japan.
As Matsuda (2010) has stated, it is notable that this stimulus was achieved via youth
activity conducted through the medium of keitai.
Fieldwork overview
To achieve my aim of exploring keitai as a literary medium, I concentrated on three questions
in the fieldwork. The first concerns the relation between keitai and the literary practice known
as doing keitai shosetsu. The second concerns how keitai shosetsu consumers actually
incorporate keitai into their usual activities such as writing, reading, and sharing comments.
The third relates to a reflexive and interpretative aspect of keitai shosetsu, namely, what
meaning do people place on doing keitai shosetsu in their everyday lives?
As these questions are dynamic and interrelated, I draw on data from in-depth
interviews and ongoing ethnographic research in urban areas of Japan, for the most part in


K.Y. Kim

Tokyo, from 2006 to 2010. I conducted in-depth interviews with young users who wrote or
read keitai shosetsu with a frequency of at least more than once a week. The respondents
were recruited through local and personal contacts. Whereas respondents who had
experience of writing keitai shosetsu often turned out to be hard core readers of such works
as well, the others identified themselves merely as audiences. While the former will
sometimes be addressed as an author, both will be referred to in this paper as keitai
shosetsu consumers.
Because of the demographic of its main consumers, most respondents were young
females in their late teens to early twenties. Teens have been early fans and active
consumers within the keitai shosetsu community. However, as Matsuda (2010) mentions,
there has been a movement towards restricting keitai use among the youth in Japan.
Although adults fears regarding keitai use mainly concerns children in elementary school,
junior high school, or high school students are not totally emancipated from these debates.
As a result, teens tend to be reluctant to tell their real keitai experiences to older
generations, or to reveal only what can be considered to be the right behaviour. Thus,
many of the respondents in this study were high school graduates, and most were studying
at the college/university level or higher.
Additional in-depth interviews were conducted with three serious authors of keitai
shosetsu, who had already gained popularity to a certain degree in the community. These
interviews were arranged in a more attentive manner than the general ethnographic
interviews, as many authors did not want to reveal their own identities even to a close
acquaintance. I also arranged three separate official interviews with the manager of the
biggest keitai shosetsu service operator during the course of the research. The object of
these interviews was to assemble information on general trends related to keitai shosetsu,
including operational issues around its online business.
Keitai, the primary medium for keitai shosetsu
As mentioned in the previous section, media experiences regarding keitai shosetsu have
been highly restricted by the features of keitai as a medium. The preference for keitai in
consuming keitai shosetsu may be linked to the ease of broadband access in Japan, where
mobile phones are overwhelmingly favoured over PCs as a medium for Internet access.
This characteristic is particularly significant among young females who do not have PCs or
have no desire to use PCs, so that in many cases mobile phones are the only, or the most
available, medium for Internet access (Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement
Organization 2009).
However, the choice of mobile platforms in terms of the consumption of keitai
shosetsu does not appear to be caused solely by this factor. In fact, most keitai shosetsu
consumers refused the argument that they are forced to read keitai literature on their
mobile phones because they do not have access to other forms of media. Many insisted that
they chose the keitai because it was the best platform in terms of the maximization of their
enjoyment, and that other platforms would not allow them to savour the content to its full
extent. As one interviewee explained:
I have read the same keitai shosetsu on both the keitai and PC since I liked the story very
much. I even read it in paperback form. But only reading on keitai moved me to tears. Keitai
shosetsu has its own expression, one that is best delivered through keitai. (S, female, 21,
college student)

The material condition of keitai was also factored into account when configuring the related
literature. More to the point, the physical features of keitai, for example, its small-sized,

Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies


glittering screens, and scroll-down-type interface, were regarded as a critical aspect in its
creation. A keitai shosetsu author, (Y, female, 23, office worker) explained that:
The story and characters are of course important, but it is also very important to imagine how
it will look like on keitai screens when you write a story. For example, Im paying the closest
attention to the line-spacing in the text. I enter some blank lines intentionally when I want
readers to take a few minutes to scroll down before going to the next sentence. That way, I can
control how they dwell on the emotions of characters.

Another enthusiastic author explained that she decided to own two keitai because she
wanted both a new model and a familiar terminal for configuring keitai shosetsu:
Last week, I finally made another contract with Softbank (Softbank is the third largest
telecommunication operator, a late starter but aggressive player in the Japanese market).
I wanted to have a brand new design, but as its interface did not seem appropriate for writing,
I found myself not wanting to abandon the old one. Although I have to increase my hours at
my part-time job in order to pay both bills, I am nevertheless happy that I got two keitai.
(G, female, 25, college student)

Furthermore, some interviewees said that they did not want to change their mobile phones
for smart phones, because the different viewing style of smart phones was not suited for
the reading of keitai shosetsu. One interviewee who had experience writing keitai shosetsu
even went as far as to say:
I am not interested in the iPhone. I think it is not suited for the viewing of keitai-specialized
websites or writing things. Smart phones are more like PCs. I dont need them. (T, female, 21,
college student)

Keitai seems to impose limitations on both reading and writing activities. As a form of
literature, keitai shosetsu is not a simple presentation of fictional stories, but an integrated
expression painstakingly designed for the characteristics of the medium known as keitai.
This raises the possibility that rather than interactive communications and social relations,
the keitai shosetsu phenomenon might in fact be situated in a region better described
within the framework of material culture.

The space monopolized by a medium

Meanwhile, the obsession with keitai as a thing often extended to an attachment to
a specific physical condition in which to read keitai shosetsu. Many respondents said that
their reading experiences tended to exclusively take place at a designated time and place.
For example, in bed before sleeping was most frequently identified as the ideal situation
for reading keitai shosetsu:
I started reading keitai shosetsu because I was suffering from insomnia. I had trouble getting
to sleep so I wanted to make my eyes tired by reading something before sleeping. My first
keitai shosetsu was Koizora; it was a hot topic then. I actually stayed up all night so that I could
finish it. The story was so touching that I kept weeping all night. From that point on I became
totally hooked on keitai shosetsu. I read them almost every night, that is, as long as I am not so
tired that I have to zonk out. It is ironic that keitai shosetsu has now become another obstacle
to sleep. (S, female, 20, college student)

The case of this particular interviewee is not extraordinary at all as a significant number of
respondents stated that they were playing with their keitai in bed before sleeping, where
they experience complete privacy and are thus most likely able to relax.
Meanwhile, the quote below taken from a conversation with a respondent (R, female,
19, vocational school student) reveals that her act of reading keitai shosetsu cannot be
thoroughly understood as merely the pursuit of entertaining content. Rather, such acts can


K.Y. Kim

be regarded as being more obsessive or ritualistic in nature in the sense that they are more
or less invariant sequences of a formal act and not entirely encoded by the performer
(Rappaport 1999).
Interviewee: I never read keitai shosetsu during the two-hour long commute on the subway,
because I do not want to be judged by other people.
Researcher: Have you in fact ever been judged by other people?
Interviewee: No, not so far. I know people would not peek intentionally, but I dont like
thinking that my keitai screen might be seen by others. The subway is sometimes so crowded
that the keitai screen of your neighbor is clearly visible. It just happens. So, I do not read keitai
shosetsu in public places.
Researcher: But if you put a privacy protection seal on your keitai screen, wont that prevent
your keitai from being seen by those around you?
Interviewee: Yes, maybe thats true, but, I still would not read keitai shosetsu on the subway.
Researcher: Do you ever access mobile broadband because you are anxious to find out
Interviewee: Yes, I often do. I usually check the weather, transportation information, and visit
friends. But I do not want to read keitai shosetsu.

Although this interviewee insisted that she would not read keitai shosetsu in public
because of her fear of being judged by strangers, a more appropriate conclusion would be
that she in fact had a strong desire to read such works in a more isolated place. At least in
the context of savouring keitai shosetsu, the portability, in other words, the functional
dimension of mobile technology, was by no means the object of her appreciation.
Meanwhile, a handful of interviewees said that they were reading keitai shosetsu while
using public transportation such as the bus or train. The Japanese public transportation
system generally requires its passengers to follow rigid etiquette such as refraining from
talking or making noises. As such, people are very reluctant to use mobile phones inside
such modes of transportation. Viewed in this context, reading keitai shosetsu while on
public transportation may be interpreted as an activity designed to shut out external
involvement, or to create personal space in a public environment as part of what we can
refer to as media cocooning in public places (Ito et al. 2009).
Although the specific circumstances of individual experiences differ from person to
person, in many cases, the presence of keitai was an overwhelming and critical element of
doing keitai shosetsu. For example, in bed before sleeping, was the most frequently
described situation for reading keitai shosetsu. To this end, the environment became
totally isolated from other involvement, and as such was physically dominated by gazing
at keitai. The presence of a self-illuminating screen and lack of interference by any other
form of media with the sense and impression created by the keitai effectively transformed
this into a time and place monopolized by the keitai.
Similarly, conversations with keitai shosetsu enthusiasts suggest that mobility or
portability, which has generally been regarded as the most significant benefit of wireless
communication, is not an important reason for using mobile phones. In interviews with
many respondents, mobility was neither identified as an important reason for using a mobile
phone, nor addressed as a functional advantage. At least in the context of keitai shosetsu, the
general assumptions found in previous research which focused on mobility and portability
as a key disposition of mobile phones now seem contradictory to some extent.
Although notions surrounding Japanese mobile communications and social relations
such as telecocooning (Habuchi 2005) and intimate stranger (Tomita 2009) still remain

Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies


valid, keitai shosetsu entangles social discourses on the technology in a contradictory

manner. The keitai shosetsu phenomenon, which is closely related to the reflexive cycle
between the self and the medium itself, suggests that mobile technology may stand for
a different cultural moment from what has been discussed within techno-centric discourses.
Refashioning emails rather than a literature
The similarity and familiarity between doing keitai shosetsu and emailing was frequently
quoted in the description of the emotional experiences with keitai shosetsu. A respondent (S,
female, 21, college student, quoted above) said that Reading keitai shosetsu is like reading
emails from close friends, whereas another respondent (Y, female, 26, office worker) said
that keitai shosetsu are more akin to personal messages than serious literature. I became
accustomed to keitai shosetsu so quickly, because it feels not that new.
The email mentioned in this context indicates text messages written and read on keitai
not on PCs. In Japan, where emailing on mobile broadband was accepted early onwards,
from the late 1990s, people tend to exchange long messages on keitai email. The act of
writing and reading keitai shosetsu should therefore be understood as an extension of keitai
email, where intimate communication and covert relations are often constructed. In fact,
almost all the respondents in this study used the metaphor of emails in their narration about
the emotions created by keitai literature, such as tsuta-etai (want to send) and tsutawaru
(to be conveyed or understood). There is little doubt that young people are capturing keitai
shosetsu in continuity with symbols of keitai email as their dominant experience with
mobile phones. Assuming the predominant usage of email among Japanese youth as a
concrete setting for wireless communication (Ito and Okabe 2005), it is thus not surprising
that the act of doing keitai shosetsu is strongly inspired by email experiences.
On the other hand, the writing of keitai shosetsu is organized in a more practical and
strategic manner. Many keitai shosetsu authors reported that they had developed their own
strategies in order to make people stick to their literature. These wide-ranging strategies
cover not only how to create attractive and entertaining storylines and characters, but also
how to manage and manipulate technological conditions so as to reach more readers.
It should be noted that there is considerable overlap between this writing strategy and
keitai email literacy. Thus, as one interviewee put it:
I pay particular attention to what time I should update new content. I usually post a new text
during daytime. I know some readers set a notice function so that they will be immediately
notified that new content has been posted. Once I put up a new text late at night when everyone
was in all likelihood sleeping, and not many people accessed this new content the next day.
(T, female, 21, college student)

Although social discourses tend to address keitai shosetsu as a new type of literature, their
consumers claim that it is by no means a new or fresh experience because they had already
become accustomed to keitai emails. From the standpoint of how insiders actually understand
and translate this phenomenon, keitai literature can be recognized as the refashioning of
email (on a mobile platform) rather than literature. Consequently, cultural patterns of keitai
shosetsu, namely, how to coordinate the writing, reading, and commenting on the literature
on mobile broadband, should be positioned as the remediation (Bolter and Grusin 1999) of
email rather than literature.
Conclusion: Youth and keitai shosetsus landscape
This article has sought to delineate a relational picture between mobile technology and
young peoples cultural manifestations by looking into the keitai shosetsu phenomenon as


K.Y. Kim

a cultural practice. While keitai shosetsu shares many of the cultural displays of interactive
literature in cyberspace, this phenomenon cannot be fully explained within the framework
of wireless social communication. Rather, the phenomenon seems remarkably dependent
on the material feature of keitai as a thing, and results in an obsessive preference for
keitai and the physical circumstances around its consumption. In terms of the remediation
of email rather than literature, keitai shosetsu is a cultural mechanism to build and
maintain literary activities in everyday experiences using mobile media. Transgressing
the conventional discursive framework of mobile media as communication tools or
portable convenience, this new media practice is mainly ruled by a two-way relation
between humans and a medium, rather than the dimension of social interaction or
mediation. The phenomenon would be viewed as a new activism and cultural translation of
digital media by the construction of literary spaces both in a network and individually.
By exploring the case study of keitai shosetsu, we can begin to understand some of the
textures of creative labours around mobile media within the context of young females in
Japan. It is more important to conceptualize the so-called mobile media phenomenon in
users experiences as signposted by keitai shosetsu practices. Far from the social discourses
on keitai shosetsu as a false literature, we see that a cultural and creative dynamism has
been deployed around mobile media, and their technology is being modified and evolved in
a new manner by Japanese youths. While the keitai shosetsu phenomenon hinges on the
relationship between mobile technology and media cultures, we need to recognize new
modes of subjectivity and creativity emerging in the urban landscape. This point reminds us
that we need new models to translate and frame the types of youth cultures which are
produced, managed, and maintained around, and by, the new media.
There has been a strong tension between old and new media surrounding the social
discourses on keitai shosetsu in Japan. Many of those discourses so far presumed the
problematic media uses of Japanese young people, criticizing youngsters for their lack of
activism and ability to discern and refuse the failed imitation of traditional literature, that
is, keitai shosetsu. I found many instances of adults moral refusal to acknowledge the
value of new technology in the hands of the young (Donald 2010) in the strong negative
responses elicited by keitai shosetsu.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that young consumers will take a leading role in the
upcoming keitai-embedded society. The time has come to figure out how to overcome the
dichotomy between old views and new sense, in order to develop a more productive
and balanced view for the future. The social negotiations surrounding the cultural identity
of mobile media have continued apace amidst the growing complexity of media and
society. Reconsidering and repositioning mobile media within the sphere of cultural
practices may prove to be a useful tool in terms of the process of connecting and
envisioning a proximate mobile media-embedded society.
1. The word keitai literally means carrying with or portable. It is generally being used to address
domestic feature phones; whereas the word smaho is to address smartphones as a separate term.
In this paper, the word keitai is interchanged with the word mobile phone. The term keitai will be
utilized in contexts where cultural aspects should be emphasized in order to understand the usage
of mobile phones in Japan; meanwhile, the term mobile phone will be used in cases where general
references are made to mobile technologies used as a portable terminal. For further discussion for
the use of the word keitai in Japan, see Matsuda (2005).
2. Japanese has conducted a yearly survey on keitai shosetsu since 2008. The data
referred to herein are based on the results released in June 2010.

Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies


Notes on contributor
Kyoung-hwa Yonnie Kim is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information
Studies, the University of Tokyo. With extensive experiences as a former professional journalist and
online media specialist in South Korea and Japan, Kims current research interest focuses on mobile
media culture in Asian regions.

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