is a Japanese term for the small digital images used in mobile phone or online instant messaging that represent a mood, object or action. They are not to be confused with emoticons which are symbols made up of punctuation marks used to express an emotion. The Japanese term emoji is made up of the word “e” for picture and moji for “word”, whereas emoticon is a combination of “emotion” and “icon”.
In 1997, the English version of the Japanese newspaper Nikkei Weekly first introduced the world to emoji when it described “Emoji word Processor software featuring more than 500 pictorial symbols [which] has become a hit since it debuted July 11″. However, the meaning of emoji as an image to be added into an online message or phone text came a few years later.
Shigetaka Kurita created emoji while working as part of a team for the Japanese mobile phone network provider NTT Docomo on its 1999 debut of i-mode – the world’s first major mobile phone internet system. It needed a new app to make it stand out from other competitors and inspiration came from a trip to AT&T in San Francisco. Kurita realized that weather reports which only spelled out the weather conditions could be easier to view and the information more quickly absorbed if images conveying the meaning of the words were used – and so the emoji was born. Kurita’s designs communicated ideas quickly and became hugely popular both in Japan and around the world. Text messages between Japanese friends are full of these cute symbols and on any train in Japan, young and old people alike can be seen with their head down, focused on texting friends with messages that include several emoji. A picture of a pint of beer and big question mark suggests going out for drinks and a picture of a person running followed by a picture of a train may mean that your friend is running late.
In 2002, after NTT Docomo’s successful launch of emoji for mobile phones, the English language magazine Wired wrote an article about the new trend titled, “Graphic language: Say it better with emoji”. The article describes how 24 year old Japanese female Hanako Matsumura “often sends messages using nothing but emoji”. With all the choice of emoji, emoticons and words such as “LOL” or “L8R”, do people even send grammatically correct, properly punctuated messages anymore – was this ever a feature of electronic messaging?