The Buddhist nun and the cellphone novel

By Marjorie Kehe, CSM, September 30, 2008

Tokyo, Japan -- It sounds like the start of a bad joke but instead it’s the truth: An 86-year-old Buddhist nun is the author of Japan’s latest cellphone novel.

What makes it even more interesting is that Jakucko Setouchi is not just any 86-year-old Buddhist nun. Also known as Harumi Setouchi (her name before taking vows as a nun in 1973), Setouchi is an esteemed writer famed for her translation of 11th-century epic romance “The Tale of the Genji.”

Her new cellphone novel (just released last week) is entitled “Tomorrow’s Rainbow” and tells the story of a teenage girl deeply hurt by her parents’ divorce.

The cellphone novel is a hugely popular phenomenon in Japan where, last year, five of the 10 bestselling novels in the country were originally cellphone novels. Most of the country’s cellphone novelists, however, are young women, often with little writing experience.

“Love Sky,” a cellphone novel sometimes described as a tear-jerker and authored by a young woman named Mika, has been read by 20 million readers. “Love Sky” is now being made into a movie.

The cellphone novel genre is said to be surging in popularity in China as well. In the US, however, some experts predict it will find little foothold. Americans use their cellphones for text messaging and movie viewing far less often than do Japanese. The Japanese also typically commute longer distances on public transportation than do Americans, making the cellphone a more useful tool for entertainment.

In addition, the Roman alphabet is less adapted to the form than the more compact Japanese characters.

As for Setouchi, she is reported to have said that while she wanted to try the genre, she does not expect to write any further cellphone novels.

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