DO YOUR OWN THING: 'Lolita' novelist touches lonely hearts

By MIYUKI KONDO, Special to The Asahi Shimbun

'It didn't mean I wanted to become a girl. Simply put, I wasn't interested in stuff for boys. I liked girlish things. Boyish things are sweaty, so I didn't like them.'

From the outside, it looks like an ordinary Tokyo apartment building. But if you find the right door, and if you are invited to enter, you immediately find yourself in a weird, wacky wonderland.

Christian Dior perfume tickles the nose and Bach the ears. Stuffed deer make themselves at home with their friends: a blond doll in a taffeta gown, Doraemon, a Hello Kitty clock and a seemingly uncountable number of other objects, some mundane, some startling.

This is helter-skelter in a 15-tatami mat room. Welcome to the world of novelist Novala Takemoto.

It is within these walls-this fantasia-that Takemoto's ultra-feminine "Lolita" novels are born. Indeed, the writer himself is a hero among the Lolita crowd, girls and women who favor lace and bonnets and ribbons and frills.

Takemoto has high cheekbones and wild hair. He could be a good-looking guy or a pretty woman. Asked to describe himself, he says: "Well, I am a male and heterosexual. When a heterosexual man is like this (infatuated with feminine objects), it's often said that it's due to the influence of an older sister. But I don't have an older sister. No one influenced me. I guess I am a mutation."

Dressed in a mixed Vivian Westwood, Comme des Garcons outfit, he serves iced tea in Alice in Wonderland glasses, setting the beverages on strawberry-patterned coasters.

Takemoto, who will not reveal his age-a ploy to keep his mysterious aura intact-joined the literary crowd with his first novel "Mishin" in 2000. It is the tale of beautiful Lolita punk band vocalist, Mishin, and the high school girl who adores her.

Though Takemoto was nominated for the Yukio Mishima Literary Prize for "Emily" and "Lolita" in 2003 and 2004 respectively, it was "Shimotsuma Monogatari" (Shimotsuma Story) that made him a celebrity. A movie based on the book was a huge hit in Japan this year. It is scheduled for release as "Kamikaze Girls" in seven countries including the United States, Italy and Spain.

Known as a novelist with the heart of an otome (maiden), Takemoto says the Lolita sense of beauty is the most important aspect of his writing and his life. In Japan the word "Lolita" conjures up images of girls decked out in outlandishly frilly garb, but he says it is as much a way of living as a fashion statement.

"Lolita is a form of aestheticism. I think Lolita is a condition in which two conflicting elements co-exist without contradiction, for example, something grotesque as well as cute," he says. "A Lolita loves Alice in Wonderland because the chaotic situation in Wonderland is very Lolitalike."

This Lolita aesthetic is especially pronounced in "Shimotsuma Monogatari," which tells of an unlikely friendship between two high school girls living in rustic Shimotsuma, Ibaraki Prefecture. Momoko is a Lolita who dreams of living in a marvelously ornamental realm resembling rococo France. Ichigo is a punk biker.

At first, the girls seem to have nothing in common, but it becomes clear they are both strong-willed characters not afraid to stay true to their beliefs regardless of what others think.

Similar loners with their own set of values often appear in Takemoto's works. He says such characters are his other self.

Born in Kyoto, he was raised in an average middle-class family. Introverted as a boy, he spent his time drawing and reading.

One day he saw "Candy Candy," a popular TV cartoon based on a comic book for girls. Takemoto was enchanted by the sentimental tale of an innocent orphan girl adopted by an aristocratic family.

"I wasn't interested in boyish things like making plastic models or sports, so I felt somewhat out of place," Takemoto says. "After seeing 'Candy,' however, I was happy to finally find what I liked."

While his parents desperately tried to get him interested in boy's toys, Takemoto pestered them for Candy merchandise and dolls.

"It didn't mean I wanted to become a girl. Simply put, I wasn't interested in stuff for boys. I liked girlish things. Boyish things are sweaty, so I didn't like them."

Predictably, his classmate teased him, calling him a "fag." It didn't matter. He says he didn't care.

During his adolescence he had little social life, preferring to devote his time to drawing and reading Japanese literature, including such authors as Osamu Dazai and Yasunari Kawabata.

After he dropped out of Osaka University of Arts, Takemoto expressed himself via many mediums. As an artist, he held a solo exhibition of fashion portraits. He followed this with installations. Rabbits and angels were favorite motifs painted on clocks and large paint or oil drums.

It was around this time he decided to use "Novala Takemoto" as his pen name. "I wanted girls to enjoy my art as if they were buying their favorite clothes," he says. "To appeal to them, I decided to use a sexless name, 'Novala,' which has a double meaning-wild rose in Japanese and nova in English."

Takemoto began writing freelance for magazines to support himself while singing in a punk band and acting in a theater troupe.

"Still, my primary interest was the arts, so I considered writing only as a part-time job."

The turning point came when he received an offer to write a serial essay for an Osaka-based monthly free paper "Hanagata Bunka Tsushin," which was distributed at art house theaters, galleries and cafes nationwide.

In the essay Takemoto discussed his philosophy, his likes and dislikes, and his Lolitalike sense of beauty for the first time.

"When I was asked to write the essay I decided to do it, but I thought it would provoke many readers and that it would be canceled after a couple of installments. From past experience, I felt that if I said what I really felt I wouldn't be accepted," he says.

In one essay, he writes, "Otome is the one who remains aloof. So it's silly if you are desperate to become friends with someone simply to avoid being alone during lunch time."

Contrary to his initial expectations, the essays appealed to many young readers.

"It was quite surprising to me. I didn't realize that there were people who shared my thoughts and sense of beauty."

A compilation of his serial essays, which continued for six years, from 1992 to 1997, titled "Soreinu: Tadashii Otome ni Narutameni" (Soreinu: to become a proper maiden), was published in 1998, two years before "Mishin."

Now, Takemoto considers writing as his primary means of self-expression. His latest book, "Mishin2: Kasako," is the long-awaited sequel to his first novel.

On a recent Sunday, about 300 fans flocked to get their idol's autograph at a bookstore at PARCO shopping center in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward at an event to mark the release of the book.

Many fans, mostly teenage girls and women in their 20s and 30s, were decked out in Lolita fashion like characters in his books

"I feel a bit ashamed to wear a dress like this at my age. But I was encouraged by his book. I realized it's OK to stick to what I like," said 32-year-old office worker Fusako Hirano from Ibaraki Prefecture. Topping off a summer frock by MILK with a beribboned straw hat, she handed a huge spray of the flower, baby's breath to Takemoto.

At ease in his apartment, surrounded by his treasures, Takemoto says: "We are a minority in this society, but I want to tell my readers to live a life based on their own value judgments. My essays were sort of love letters to them. Now I write novels, but my message hasn't changed."

(IHT/Asahi: July 24,2004)

Last update 2010-11-30. Contact