FRI’s eye:The “Emoji” which are conquering the world. Following their roots up to the present moment

In April of this year the American branch of Sony Pictures Entertainment announced that they were making a feature-length movie themed around “Emoji”. This news probably surprised quite a lot of people. Before we knew it, those “yellow faces” inside every smartphone had invaded our daily lives. In this report we will focus on the origin and growth of “Emoji” culture, and how they have been received in Japan.

Emoji of iPhone



■ The “Emoji” which are conquering the world

The advertising company “EMOGI” released a report in 2015 which stated that currently 92% of the world’s net users use “Emoji”.
Also, for the first time in its history the Oxford English Dictionary chose the pictogram for ” Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji ” as the winner for its “Word of the Year” award.
Furthermore, the American pop singer Katy Perry used “Emoji” as the theme for one of her music videos, McDonalds used them in one of their advertising campaigns, and it has even collaborated with some of the top brands in the fashion industry, such as Versace or Chanel. “Emoji” are not just used for digital communication, but have also expanded into other areas such as publicity and promotion, music, consumer surveys, fashion, and more.

■ The origins of “Emoji”

These famous “Emoji” actually originated in Japan. In 1998, the telecommunications company NTT Docomo released a new service called “i Mode” which would let people connect to the Internet from their cell-phones and send mail to one another. Alongside this service they also created 176 different visual symbols. These could be said to have been the starting point for today’s “Emoji”. From that moment, emoticons became an indispensable part of Japanese people’s digital communications.

The original emoji made for NTTDocomo i-mode


In 2008, when the iPhone was launched in Japan, its Japanese partner company Softbank made a proposal to Apple for the introduction of emoticons into their service.
At the start of 2008 the use of emoticons was limited to only Japanese versions of the iPhone. However 3 years later, in 2011, every single language came equipped with emoticons and the word “Emoji” became a common term all around the world. After this, “Emoji” were compiled into Unicode, allowing them to be used on Android smartphones too. Even Twitter, Instagram and others started incorporating them until they reached the degree of international popularity we see today.

■ Their present situation in Japan, their land of origin

These “Emoji” have sparked a boom all around the world, but in their place of origin, Japan, they’re not commonly used as characters. They’re not being used by many businesses, either. Why is that?

One reason is the influence of manga culture. If we take a closer look at the first emoticons which appeared back in 1998, you can see that their design is full of symbols commonly used in manga. For example, the mark showing a giant drip of sweat which is used to represent “impatience” or “worry”, the cross-shaped throbbing vein used to represent “anger”, the light-bulb mark used to represent “insight”, etc… To Japanese people, who are very accustomed to these manga symbols, the appearance of emoticons was no surprise. In a sense, it was completely “natural”. Since for the Japanese this was a natural occurrence, and since they have been using these symbols for such a long time, today’s “Emoji” are felt to be no different from the “emoticons of the past”. To them, they are commonplace and totally normal.

Another reason is the abundance of alternative symbols. For example, the Japanese youth of today love these kind of Kaomoji (face symbols) (´・ω・`) because it’s much cuter than an emoticon, and can be written on any text platform. According to a survey conducted by the TV news show “Mezamashi TV” back in June of 2013, around 80% of all Japanese teenagers and twenty-year-olds prefer using “face symbols” instead of “Emoji” when writing a message or chatting.

Examples of “Kaomoji”


Furthermore, the messaging application “LINE”, which boasts 58 million users in Japan (according to data from March of 2016), released a “stamp” feature which became a huge hit. It allowed users to insert images which combined character art with words, and these are now used by many Japanese people. Compared to “Emoji”, these offer a greater variety of expressions and can be used in many different situations. There are also a lot of characters to choose from. According to a survey conducted by “Live Media” in 2014, approximately 35% of LINE’s users have paid to purchase “stamps”. Also, these different characters born from the “stamps” have been turned into a variety of products in Japan, as well as videogames, and some even have their own stores. Their influence over Japanese society has been much stronger than that of “Emoji”.



“emoji” and “stamps” have come into fashion–. This world-wide boom is partly due to Japan’s culture of non-verbal communication, which in itself follows an unusual path. If this culture were to expand and spread even wider, it might possibly allow a more harmonious interaction between very different types of languages (and thus solve many of our questions regarding the very nature of language).  ̄\_(ツ)_/ ̄

(Article: Kamyi Fong)

Fields Research Institute (FRI) conducts research in entertainment.
This article was written by a member of FRI, through the original coverage of his/her interests observed in their daily lives.

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