Student Flights


Where emojis came from

Published February 26th, 2016

Ever wonder what all those emojis in your phone are? The red-faced goblin and the harp? Why it’s always July 17?

There’s a story behind how the world become emojified and it all started back in 1999, when Japanese telephone company DoCoMo began working on a mobile internet service and wanted some symbols to brighten up weather reports. The idea was to impart emotion in order to facilitate communication and instead of simply drawing some sun and rain, he got a little carried away with smiley faces and hearts.


In 2011 emoji made its international debut as part of Apple’s operating system. Now, westerners could spice up their instant messages with slices of pizza and thumbs up.

Some emojis however have been somewhat lost in translation. The smiley faced poo exists because in Japan, poo is often regarded as good luck. On Microsoft though, it’s an eyeless turn and on Google devices, it’s got no face and flies buzzing around it.

Because emojis where only ever intended for use in Japan, there are a many symbols that are lost on us westerners. For example, there’s some of the plant looking emojis actually denote test results, so a five-leaf petal cherry blossom is a good grade. The two fish shaped flags represent Children’s Day in Japan and that red-faced goblin is to do with Japanese folklore.

Then there’s the food, those three balls on a stick? Sweet dumplings called dango. But what about all those times you wanted a bottle of milk or until recently cheese, tacos, burritos and hotdogs? Well the emoji gods had to make those up to meet popular western demand.


What about sex? Emoji has taken on its own sexy meaning through the driving force that is popular culture. Eggplant= guys junk, peach= girls junk. And any number of hand gestures and mind boggles. If you need more, check out Flitmoji which adds in some ‘accessories’ and private parts in a range of colours and shapes.

While we’re still super stoked at the option to have a girl emoji with different colour skin/hair, as for the Japanese? They’ve moved on. Emoji is so 2005, they’re all about message exchange service LINE that operates largely on the use of stickers.


Better get ready for a whole new world of emotion and communication...

Rachel Surgeoner

A self-confessed 'food-tourist', I take hunting for the world's greatest sandwich very seriously, my quest has taken me from Berlin to Hoboken. Stopping off only for vintage shopping, craft beers and Mediterranean sunsets.

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