クルミの日本語 exploring Japanese

絵文字えもじ 😊

original June 11, 2016; updated March 17, 2017

You might think that emojis are 👍 (thumbs up), or 💩 (pile of poo). You might be annoyed that they are not displaying for you on this web page. But they're on topic: they come from Japan, starting around 1999 on NTT's DoCoMo mobile internet service.

is "picture" and 文字もじ is "character, letter, writing system"; so 絵文字 are picture characters. The seeming correlation with the "emo" in "emotion" or "emoticon" is only a coincidence:

  • Emoticons (aka "smileys") are named after emotions; they're usually sideways, using mainly the ASCII character set. The canonical smiley with nose is :-)
  • 顔文字かおもじ ("face characters"), more common in Japan, are right-side-up and use more Unicode characters: (*^‿^*)
  • 絵文字 are full-color single characters, and may display differently (or not at all) on different platforms: 😊

Emoji's Japanese origin really shines in a set of symbols that are basically decorated kanji (and a few kana). Instead of writing つき you can use an emoji: 🈷. This raises some questions.

  1. Why would you want to do this? 🈷 can display differently among phones and browsers (even on the same computer)—or it might not display at all. "Plain old Unicode" 月 has more consistent support at this time.
  2. Why do only 14 kanji (and 2 kana) get this special treatment? Your emoji-based vocabulary is restricted to phrases of limited use; how often can you work 🈳 🈯 ("sky finger") into a conversation? (New martial art called からゆび?)
  3. How do you display emoji in HTML?

The first question is up to you. For the third, do "View Source". We'll go more in depth for the second, looking at the meaning of each of these specially-selected kanji. Many emoji listing pages are online, but the Unicode.org page (see links) has good descriptions, listed in quotes, that help put the kanji in context.

The table below lists each emoji, the matching kanji, the usual literal meaning, the meaning suggested by the Unicode short name, and an example kanji compound that matches that meaning. (I'm sorry if the emoji do not show up on your system!)

絵文字漢字文字通りの意味Unicode用例
🈷Moon, month"Monthly amount"月謝げっしゃ (monthly tuition)
🈶Exist, be"Not free of charge" 有料ゆうりょう (toll, charge)
🈯Finger"Reserved" 指定席していせき (reserved seat)
🉐Advantage, acquire"Bargain" どく
🈹Discount"Discount" 割引わりびき
🈚Not, missing"Free of charge" 無料むりょう
🈲Prohibition"Prohibited" 禁止きんし
🉑Acceptable"Acceptable"suffix , "OK to ~"
🈸Say; be called"Application" もう
🈴Meet, match"Passing grade" 合格ごうかく
🈳Empty, sky"Vacancy" 空席くうせき (empty seat)
Celebrate"Congratulations"いわ
Secret"Secret"秘密ひみつ
🈺Business"Open for Business"営業中えいぎょうちゅう
🈵Full, complete"No Vacancy"満員まんいん
🈁ココHere"Here"ここ
🈂Katakana "sa""Service Charge"サービスりょう

Many other emoji have Japanese origins or significance. Here are a few:

絵文字意味翻訳
🔰初心者のマークBeginner's mark; decal applied to cars where driver has less than one year experience
🍡団子だんごSweet dumpling made from mochiko
🎋七夕たなばたの木Tanabata Tree, where you can attach good wishes written on pieces of paper. This emoji makes more sense if zoomed in. The Tanabata story (and festival) is worth researching.
🆖"No good"Bad, or mistaken. (Might look like Tagalog, but it's not :-)
💮White FlowerSometimes used as a stamp to mark schoolwork that is very well done. On some platforms, you can zoom in to read some microscopic text: 大変よくできました。(meaning: Very well done.)
🎴Hanafuda (Flower) CardBy convention, the "Full Moon with Red Sky" card is depicted, but the standard doesn't require that specific card.
📛Name BadgeThe tulip framed name tag is common in kindergarten in Japan. A facetious alternate name is "Tofu on Fire."
Part Alternation MarkIn traditional Japanese のう or 連歌れんが, indicates where the singer's part starts.
🆎Blood Type ABBlood type (血液型けつえきがた) tells you everything you need to know about yourself or another person. Emoji exist for all four blood types.

We have not covered every Japanese emoji here (and new emoji are still being created and rolled out to different platforms). But I hope you enjoyed this. Thanks for reading!

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