Young commuter bloggers snatch Japan's literary laurels

Steamy confessional novels written on mobile phones top bestseller lists
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The Independent Online

Like many mothers and daughters, Makiko and Midoriko don't always get on. Makiko, a hostess on the cusp of middle age, is worn out from single-handedly raising her teenage girl. Midoriko lives in fear that she will end up like her exhausted mum, and communicates only in writing. Guilt and resentment curdle their lives as Makiko ponders the move she thinks will restart her life: breast implants.

Such is the plot of Japan's newest literary sensation, Breasts and Eggs, originally written as a blog by Mieko Kawakami in the choppy vernacular of Japan's freewheeling western city Osaka. The little known singer-songwriter has astonished literary conservatives by bagging the Akutagawa Prize, Japan's coveted award for new authors. The prize is the latest sign that Japan leads the world in a new writing genre: blog-lit.

Japanese is now the top language of the blogosphere, with roughly 37 per cent of posts worldwide, according to a 2007 survey by blog search engine Technorati. About 70 million people in Japan use mobile phones daily to surf the net, many during notoriously long commutes. Inevitably, some have started to read, and write, novels on their handsets. In 2007 half the top 10 novels originated from the (very) small screen, and the top three were written by novice mobile authors. Several young stars have emerged, including 21-year-old Rin, whose high-school love story, If You... has sold half a million copies since it was published last year.

But the speed of this ascent and the genre's apparent lack of respect for Japan's 1,000-year literary tradition have unnerved traditionalists. Tokyo's governor, Shintaro Ishihara, himself an Akutagawa-winner, called Ms Kawakami's novella "unpleasant and intolerable" in Bungei Shunju magazine.

But others have defended the book. "Her popularity is part of the phenomenon of confessional fiction of the Japanese chick-lit variety, where the writer is very frank about sex and personal, especially family, relationships," says Japan-based author Roger Pulvers. "In a superficially uptight society like Japan's, people crave this sort of fiction."

Some critics have pointed out that Mr Ishihara was himself criticised for the rebellious content of his 1955 winner, Season of the Sun.

Ms Kawakami, a Björk-loving 31-year-old, began blogging five years ago and her style quickly won admirers with, at one stage, 200,000 hits a day. The book has sold 110,000 copies, and there are plans for a movie. True to her origins, Ms Kawakami has little time for stuffy literary language. When she won the Akutagawa Prize, she said in her regional dialect, "Mesanko, ureshii": "I'm dead chuffed."