Over 1,300 years, Japanese writers have created one of the most subtle and delicate of the world’s literatures, from 17-syllable haiku poems to the surreal fictions of the contemporary novelist Haruki Murakami. Now the country’s literary culture is under siege from that most ubiquitous and modern of devices: the mobile phone.

For the first time, Japan‘s fiction bestseller list is dominated by books published, read and, in several cases, written on mobile telephones, most of them by young women in their 20s. The rise of the “mobile novel” has prompted an anxious debate about the nature of literature and the future of reading in Japan.

This week the 2007 bestseller list, published by Japan’s biggest book distributor, Tohan, revealed that five of the year’s most successful novels, including the top three, were first written for downloading on mobile phones before being republished in book form. The number one seller, Love Sky, sold two million copies in the last year, has recently been released as a hit film, and has made a star of its author, a woman in her early 20s known only as Mika.

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