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 in 1997 on J-Phone's SkyWalker DP-211SW device. The first emoji were black and white, 12x12 pixels, and included "pile of poo".
絵 is "picture" and 文字 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:
Emoji's Japanese origin really shines in a set of symbols that are basically decorated kanji (and a few kana). Instead of writing 月 you can use an emoji: 🈷. This raises some questions.
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!)
|🈷||月||Moon, month||"Monthly amount"||月謝 (monthly tuition)|
|🈶||有||Exist, be||"Not free of charge"||有料 (toll, charge)|
|🈯||指||Finger||"Reserved"||指定席 (reserved seat)|
|🈚||無||Not, missing||"Free of charge"||無料|
|🉑||可||Acceptable||"Acceptable"||suffix 可, "OK to ~"|
|🈸||申||Say; be called||"Application"||申し込む|
|🈴||合||Meet, match||"Passing grade"||合格|
|🈳||空||Empty, sky||"Vacancy"||空席 (empty seat)|
|🈺||営||Business||"Open for Business"||営業中|
|🈵||満||Full, complete||"No Vacancy"||満員|
|🈂||サ||Katakana "sa"||"Service Charge"||サービス料|
Many other emoji have Japanese origins or significance. Here are a few:
|🔰||初心者のマーク||Beginner's mark; decal applied to cars where driver has less than one year experience|
|🍡||団子||Sweet dumpling made from mochiko|
|🎋||七夕の木||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 Flower||Sometimes 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) Card||By convention, the "Full Moon with Red Sky" card is depicted, but the standard doesn't require that specific card.|
|📛||Name Badge||The tulip framed name tag is common in kindergarten in Japan. A facetious alternate name is "Tofu on Fire."|
|〽||Part Alternation Mark||In traditional Japanese 能 or 連歌, indicates where the singer's part starts.|
|🆎||Blood Type AB||Blood type (血液型) 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!