Genres in Japanese mobile phone communication

A contemporary form of Computer Mediated Communication

Noboru Sakai, Tamagawa University [About | Email]

Volume 18, Issue 1 (Discussion paper 1 in 2018). First published in ejcjs on 29 April 2018.


This study investigates what kinds of topics, or genres, Japanese people exchange through their mobile phone e-mail (Keitai-mail), as a type of CMC (Computer Mediated Communication). The data corpus for this study includes 43,295 mails for communication purposes from 60 Japanese young people; we analyse these messages as extending Ling et al (2005)’s survey on genres appearing in SNS. Genresexchanged have generally to do with quotidian matters: events taking place within a short timeframe, information about themselves and what they know, and their opinions. Co-occurrences of genres exhibit outside influences on communication from Japanese culture and communication norms.

Keywords: CMC, genres, E-mail, mobile phones.

1. Introduction

This study investigates what kind of topics, namely genres, are exchanged between Japanese people via their mobile phone e-mail (Keitai-mail) in order to elucidate how CMC (Computer Mediated Communication) affects their daily communication, given the commonplace presence of mobile phone applications as a part of daily life today. Genres are one of the key criteria used in discourse analysis (Fairclough, 2003) to interpret the meaning of texts, and this section focuses on how genres appear in Keitai-mail. It examines 1) how each genre occurs, 2) how many genres each Keitai-mail includes and 3) how often two or more genres co-occur, in the Keitai-mail collected. In addition, for current CMC study, to investigate different CMC each other is recommended to illustrate their feature in addition to look criteria previous media showed (Zhao, 2006) and more and more CMC in each language practice have gained its significance (Danet & Herring, 2007).

Before investigating Japanese Keitai-mail, this paper quickly summarises Ling et al’s (2005) work on genres (Table 1).

Table 1: The genres of SMS (Ling et al., 2005, p. 83, slightly modified)



Middle future coordination, i.e., things that will happen in the next hours or the next day


Grooming, i.e., messages giving compliments or engaging in small talk

Near future coordination, i.e., things that have already begun or will happen soon

Short one word answers

Emotional grooming



Personal news

Location information

Sex-related jokes

Distant future coordination



Thank you notes


Safety issues

Creative messages



















Note. The percentages given are from analysis of 865 messages.

The types of genres, as well as the proportion in which they appear, show what kinds of information are exchanged in SMS (Short Message Service) messages, which reveals tendencies in SMS communication. For example, the table shows people often talk about what they expect to experience in the near future. In addition, SMS is often used for questioning and small talk, and exchanges such as these tend to be frequent. Faulkner and Culwin (2005) conduct a similar study, revealing a similar tendency to that found by Ling et al. (2005) (although the sample size was smaller), and conclude that SMS are used for a wide range of activities by a variety of people. These studies indicate that flexibility and wide application are chief characteristics of mobile texting.

Based on this genre as a foundation, this study discusses the genres which appear on Japanese Keitai mail; this is a richer written platform than SMS. The present study utilises a much larger corpus of raw data, which will shed light on the field of CMC

2. Method

This study analyses the corpus of raw data from communication practices which appear in Keitai-mail the researchers gained through fieldwork. In detail, this study analyses 43,295 Keitai-mail messages for communication purposes collected from 60 young Japanese people (aged 18 to 30; the ratio of males to females is 1:1, i.e., 30 male participants and 30 female participants) from May 2009 to January 2010. The Keitai-mail messages were collected by Keitai-mail backup software Keitai-master MX(ver 4.5) (Jungle Inc., 2009), with the selection of participants which Keitai-mail could offer.

With regards to the categorisation of genres,the occurrences of each genre throughout the corpus are presented. For this study, 28 genres are recognised, as an extended categorisation of a study by Ling et al. (2005, p. 83). Ling’s original study has 18 genres. As Keitai-mail are longer and richer in content than SMS messages, this study extends Ling et al.’s categories in order to interpret messages more precisely.

Compared to Ling’s original categories, since Keitai-mail are filled with ‘creative messages’, this category is omitted and the categories of ‘future coordination’, ‘coordination of the day’, ‘personal information’, ‘suggestion’, ‘opinion’, ‘expectations’, ‘hope’, ‘greeting’, ‘notes on congratulations’, ‘calling interlocutor by name’ and ‘quotations’ are added. A brief description of each genre is given here in order to understand the nature of the genre. For purposes of illustration, the 28 genres are also separated into five subcategories.

Genres indicating that things happen along a certain timeline

This subcategory includes expressions which state facts or plans that writers experience or believe will happen at a certain time.

  • Near-future coordination: this is defined as “things that have already begun or will happen soon”; here, more concretely, ‘soon’ is defined as “within a few minutes (at best, 10 minutes maximum).”
  • Middle-future coordination: this is defined as “things that will happen in the next hours or next day.”
  • Distant-future coordination: based on the ‘middle-future coordination’, distant-future coordination is defined as “things that will happen in two or more days.”
  • Coordination of the day: this deals with things happening on the day mails are exchanged; it encapsulates some aspects of near-future coordination and middle-future coordination.
  • Future coordination: genres for messages stating things that will happen sometime, but “when that thing will happen” cannot be decided solely by the content of the message. In other words, the messages display some vagueness in stating the time when something will happen.
  • Personal news: messages which speak about what has happened around the senders

Genres related to messages intended to convey information to interlocutors

This subcategory consists of messages in which writers intend to tell the recipient something.

  • Questions : simply, the questions that message senders ask recipients
  • Requests: requests include any type of messages through which senders try to cause recipients to do something, either by requesting or commanding
  • Invitations: invitation here solely focuses on actual invitation messages in which the sender invites the recipient to some event/place
  • Suggestions: messages which include information on what senders believe recipients should do
  • Opinions: compared with suggestions, messages are tagged as opinions when the sense of eagerness to cause someone to do something is weaker. They are simple statements of what the writer believes.
  • Short answers: this is an extension of ‘short one-word answers’. This study includes messages which answer questions/requests with only short messages; e.g.,「了解」(OK), 「大丈夫」(No problem).
  • Greetings: salutations, such as 「おはよう」(Good morning) and 「こんにちは」(Hello/Good afternoon).
  • Calling interlocutor by name: this refers to phrases which simply use the name of interlocutors (names within other genres are categorised into the other genres).
  • Thank-you notes: messages expressing appreciation to recipients.
  • Congratulatory notes: messages which celebrate some success or something good to do with the recipients.
  • Apologies: Messages of apology.

Genres expressing information about message creators

  • Expectations: interpretations of something talked about in Keitai-mail (or simply guessed) by message senders.
  • Hopes (H): statements of something senders hope for in the future.

Genres introducing some types of information (to recipients)

  • Personal information: information about senders.
  • Information: information other than about the senders such as information on others or more general information.
  • Location information: information about a target place.
  • Safety issues: information cautioning the recipient about safety.
  • Quotations: messages consisting of others’ words (including famous people/people around participants).

Genres utilised as a mediator of communication

This subcategory includes words or phrases used in creating a favourable communication atmosphere, or more simply, words or phrases for small-talk purposes.

  • Grooming: this is defined as “messages giving compliments or engaging in a small talk.”
  • Emotional grooming: grooming which underlies emotions of senders.
  • Jokes: jokes which impart a sense of humor in communication.
  • Sex-related jokes: jokes around sex and related matters.

Some sentences can be categorised into two or more genres. In such cases, taking into account the speech acts and illocutional forces involved, the most likely interpretation is given. For example:

[When you get home, please use a heater and keep warm]

This sentence is a reply to a small-talk message about how cold the day was. It could be a request, since the sender is asking the recipient to stay home and keep warm. However, it is normal in Japan to tell someone to keep warm when it is a cold day and whether the sender really wanted the recipient to follow the advice is not clear. In other words, what the sender wanted is not a central part of the message; he or she is more likely to be giving advice. Of course, this sentence might also occur if the recipient had caught a serious cold, but in a situation where details surrounding the available texts are not to hand, this interpretation carries the risk of overinterpretation. Therefore, this sentence is categorised as a suggestion. In cases where the available information includes more evidence, similar sentences can be interpreted as belonging to different categories based on the framework of discourse analysis.

In the counting, since a change of message sequence would increase the number of occurrences of a genre even though the message as a whole remains the same, this study only counts it once when a genre appears in a text. For example, “すみません遅れて申し訳ないです、今PCに打ち込んでいるところです” [I’m sorry, I apologise for the delay, now I’m inputting to PC] can be written as “すみません、今PCに打ち込んでいるところです、遅れて申し訳ないです。” [I’m sorry now I’m inputting to PC, I apologise for the delay.] By a simple counting from the beginning of the sentence, the first has a statement of apology [すみません遅れて申し訳ないです] whereas the second has two [すみませんand 遅れて申し訳ないです。], if simply giving the genre phrase by phrase. However, these two have the same meaning in terms of the textual level, so this study only counts once as a genre.

3. Result and discussions

For the whole corpus, each message is categorised according to these genres; the frequency of each genre within the corpus is illustrated in Table 2. The table shows that questions are the most frequently occurring genre in the data—one-quarter of Keitai-mail includes some type of question.Next come requests, followed by short answers. Short answers can be a simple or short response to questions and requests; it is reasonable to say that exchanges of questions-answers account for a large part of the communications.

Table 2: Frequency of occurrence of each genre
Genres Frequency Proportion in the number of Keitai-mail (=Frequency/43,294) Proportion in total occurrences
Questions 12,935 29.876% 12.491%
Requests 9,482 21.901% 9.157%
Short answers 6,865 15.856% 6.629%
Near-future coordination 6,658 15.378% 6.430%
Middle-future coordination 6,127 14.152% 5.917%
Suggestions 5,698 13.161% 5.502%
Information 5,634 13.013% 5.441%
Personal News 5,552 12.824% 5.362%
Greetings 5,528 12.768% 5.338%
Opinions 5,481 12.660% 5.293%
Apologies 4,924 11.373% 4.755%
Future coordination 4,762 10.999% 4.599%
Thanks notes 4,261 9.842% 4.115%
Personal information 4,036 9.322% 3.898%
Emotional grooming 3,408 7.872% 3.291%
Distant-future coordination 3,163 7.306% 3.054%
Grooming 3,081 7.116% 2.975%
Hopes 1,940 4.481% 1.873%
Expectations 1,724 3.982% 1.665%
Calling interlocutor by name 776 1.792% 0.749%
Location information 544 1.256% 0.525%
Notes of congratulations 499 1.153% 0.482%
Coordination of the day 241 0.557% 0.233%
Invitations 85 0.196% 0.082%
Quotations 55 0.127% 0.053%
Sex-related Jokes 51 0.118% 0.049%
Jokes 41 0.095% 0.040%
Safety information 2 0.005% 0.002%
Total 103,553

Next come near-future coordination and middle-future coordination. It is natural for people to speak of what has just happened, is happening now, and will be happening in the near future. If the proportion of ‘future coordination’ and ‘coordination of the day’ are added into the calculation with near-future coordination and middle-future coordination, 17.2% of Keitai-mail messages include some information around the time of sending. Therefore, the result reflects this general tendency of communication.

The next three are greetings, apologies, and thanks. Approximately 10% of the Keitai-mail in the corpus incorporate a greeting, not such a great number, but because the corpus data include interactions, it can be predicted that greetings will be used as the opening words in exchanges in many cases. This tendency is discussed later in this chapter in detail. Information (including personal information) is also exchanged relatively often.

The genres listed above are equivalent to over 80% of total occurrences of genres throughout the corpus, and this indicates that people like to exchange messages about things around them in both time and space directly via Keitai-mail. For example, distant future-coordination, in other words, things that will happen in two or more days, does not occur very often, even though there is much future information they can tell others. In addition, quotation—words from others—also does not appear often. The preponderance of the genres listed above shows the nature of Keitai-mail as a convenient communication tool regarding daily life.

Furthermore, looking at the genres participants choose, they seem not to go through some kinds of communication mediators such as emotional expressions and jokes in order to control the communication atmosphere. One reason for this is the continuous nature of Keitai-mail communication—several exchanges occurring in a single interaction—so that such communication mediators are less used as the interaction goes on. The other possible reason is the written nature of Keitai-mail—applying such communication mediators is demanding when creating a message, and people depend on other types of mediators (such as emoticons) to control the communication atmosphere. These possibilities are also discussed later in this chapter.

Next, how many genres each Keitai-mail includes are discussed. Firstly, Table 3 presents the number of genres appearing in a single e-mail text.

Table 3: Frequency of the number of genres occurring in a text
Genres per text Frequency Proportion
1 15,112 34.905%
2 12,529 28.939%
3 7,263 16.776%
4 4,118 9.511%
5 2,181 5.038%
6 1,107 2.557%
7 543 1.254%
8 262 0.605%
9 104 0.240%
10 43 0.099%
11 23 0.053%
12 9 0.021%
13 1 0.002%
Total 43295 100.000%

The results show that while about 34% of Keitai-mail involve just one genre, the other 66% consist of two or more genres. As befits this handy medium, the messages exchanged through mobile phone e-mail are basically quite simple messages which contain only one genre. E-mails containing 5 or more genres account for less than 10%. The average number of genres per message is 2.39. This suggests that Japanese senders often include several types of messages in a single e-mail, but do not overdo it.

This can be explained from the standpoint of the specifications and characteristics of Japanese mobile phone e-mail and the nature of communication using this medium. Specifically, while Japanese mobile phones can create longer messages than SMS, at the same time, mobile e-mail is used for relatively simple and handy communications. Therefore, many texts contain two or more genres but do not include too many genres since texts with too many genres require much effort and time in creation, despite the handiness of the medium.

The discussion in this section suggests that Keitai-mail is a handy tool for brief messaging, but also that people also apply combinations of genres in order to realise effective communication. Moreover, the result illustrates how Japanese culture, as well as strategies that can be seen in other language practices, is reflected in Keitai-mail.

Co-occurrences of genres

Over 65% of Keitai-mail includes two or more genres within a single message, and by calculating the number of patterns of genres appearing in each Keitai-mail, particular interactional tendencies among young Japanese people can be observed. To analyse this, the Kendall rank correlation coefficient is calculated (see Appendix A for all calculations) and the combinations with relatively high values (τ>0.1 andτ< -0.1) are as follows:

Positive correlation more than 0.1

  • Personal news and apologies (0.130)
  • Thanks notes and future coordination (0.118)
  • Suggestions and opinion (0.114)
  • Opinion and expectation (0.114)
  • Personal news and opinion (0.113)
  • Request and greeting (0.111)
  • Opinion and information (0.109)
  • Opinion and future coordination (0.102)
  • Request and personal information (0.101)

In the combinations listed above, personal news tends to appear together with other genres. This indicates that young Japanese people would like to say something more than just imparting news in these interactions. In addition, when they want to say something about the future, they also add the reasons why they think so. These combinations can frequently be seen in oral-based communication, and Keitai-mail have the capacity to include more messages naturally in the same way as oral communication.

In addition, some combinations suggest the reflection of Japanese culture in Keitai-mail. For example, the combination of greetings and requests can be explained in the following way. Making a request by itself, with no accompanying utterance of another genre, would be too direct and would cause a rude violation of Japanese manners, especially to people with whom the sender is not sufficiently close. Therefore, instead of sending a message with just a request, senders first put a greeting statement before asking for something.

Negative correlation less than -0.1

  • Questions and short answers (-0.162)
  • Questions and requests (-0.123)
  • Short answers and near-future coordination (-0.103)

Compared to the combinations showing highly positive correlations, combinations showing negative correlation are simple. As for the first one, questions and answers do not occur on the one occasion: in particular, short answers are used as simple replies without going into a long message. Therefore, this combination will be negatively correlated. Requests are basically a question as to whether a person agrees to something hoped for or not, and it is natural that people tend not to use the same type of messages at the same time. Short answers are responding to a question which asks about the close future of recipients’ schedule, so near-future coordination is not expressed when messages already indicate a close future schedule through short answers.

4. Conclusion.

The genres which appear in the Keitai-mail of the corpus relate basically to something happening around senders/recipients: questions and answers, events which happened in the recent past/will happen in the near future, and non-serious exchanges (e.g., grooming) are the main genres found. When a mixed use of genres occurs, a major characteristic is that people tend to include something about themselves in the texts, stemming from the closeness of communication which involves only those senders and recipients. Basic Japanese cultural practices are also at work in this process: the co-existence of greetings and apologies with the other speech acts which are the main purpose of the message reflects the Japanese politeness strategy of avoiding being too direct with interlocutors.

Appendix A

Figure 1. The Kendall test for co-occurrences of genres

Sakai, Figure 1

Note. The values beyond .01 and below -.01 are coloured.

  • [SA] Short answer
  • [F] Future coordination
  • [N] Near-future coordination
  • [M] Middle-future coordination
  • [TD] Coordination of the day
  • [D] Distant-future coordination
  • [A] Apologies
  • [T] Thanks notes
  • [G] Greeting
  • [PI] Personal information
  • [I] Information
  • [Q] Questions
  • [Inv] Invitation
  • [S] Suggestions
  • [O] Opinions
  • [R] Requests
  • [Groom] Grooming
  • [E] Emotional grooming
  • [C] Notes of congratulations
  • [Ex] Expectations
  • [H] Hope
  • [SRJ] Sex-related jokes
  • [J] Jokes
  • [L] Location information
  • [PN] Personal news
  • [Quo] Quotation
  • [IN] Calling interlocutor by name


This paper is based on my Ph.D. dissertation (University of Queensland); I would like to express my gratitude to my advisors: Emeritus Professor Nanette Gottlieb, Dr. Yuriko Naga, and Dr. Michael Harrington. This research project was supported by several scholarships and a research grant: The University of Queensland, the Faculty of Arts International Scholarship covered the tuition fees. A living allowance was provided by Nanette Gottlieb’s Australian Professorial Fellowship, funded by the Australian Research Council. In addition, the Tokyo Foundation also supported my data collection in Japan. I am thankful for these forms of financial support.


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Fairclough, N., 2003.Analysing discourse: Textual analysis for social research. London: Routledge.

Faulkner, X.,& Culwin, F., 2005. When fingers do the talking: A study of text messaging. Interacting with Computers, 17,167-185.

Jungle.Inc., 2009. Keitai-master MX ver4.5[Computer software].

Ling, R., Julsrud T.,& Yttri, B., 2005. Nascent communication genres within sms and mms. In Harper R, Palen L, & Taylor A, (eds), The inside text: Social, cultural and design perspectives on SMS. Dordrecht: Springer. pp. 75-100

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About the Author

Noboru Sakai is an adjunct lecturer at the Center for English as a Lingua Franca, Tamagawa University, Japan. He holds a PhD (Language studies) from the University of Queensland, an MA (Applied Linguistics) from the University of Queensland, and BS (Information systems) from Soka University, Japan. His research interest is communication in society from a holistic view, including its related multidisciplinary research fields. He in particular studies computer mediated communication (particularly among young people) based on sociolinguistic perspectives. He also researches in applied linguistics, emphasising computer assisted language learning and Japanese translation.

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