Designs That Defined Modern Japan: Emoji

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I attended an excellent webinar on the topic ‘Designs That Defined Modern Japan’ by Professor Hiroshi Kashiwagi, and the audience were set the challenge of coming with their own list of 8 Designs That Defined Modern Japan. I have already done three posts (these are not in any particular order or ranking) on the shinkansen, Hello Kitty, and the washlet (‘Japanese toilet’). This time I am writing about emoji (word not written in italics as it’s now in the English language – and many, I suspect, are even unaware of its Japanese origins – 絵文字 or えもじ).

Emoji was another design, like the shinkansen, Hello Kitty, and the washlet that was mentioned within the discussion at the end of Kashiwagi’s seminar in relation to items that the audience thought that should be included in the list.

While the history of what could be described as emoji is a bit different between cultures – before we got the more attractive designs that we have now, faces used to be drawn on their side in much of North America and Europe [ e.g. 😉 ], whereas they were drawn with the head the right way up in Japan [e.g., (^◡^) ], it is the Japanese emoji which became most pervasive when better graphics could be used.

Looking through the emoji available today, while there are universal elements of it, there is still a heavy Japanese influence. Below is a picture of a selection of the emoji that came up when I typed in ‘Japan’ on a searchable keyboard or where I spotted a Japanese influence:

As there are more emoji being added to the standard set (even if they look a little different from platform to platform), I suspect there are others which could be added to the above list.

Given my interest in symbolism and things such as kamon, I am very interested in what emoji represent, why certain emoji exist, how they are interpreted or used more globally, and a range of other issues. These are things for me to address further in the update to Japan: The Basics as well as a further book that I am working on. In fact, in relation to Japan: The Basics, discussing the update with some of my students about the cover design, emoji was one of the preferences to replace the cherry blossom design.

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