How Do You Tell About Your Feeling on Text? Tracing Back the Evolution of Emoji!

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How Do You Tell About Your Feeling on Text? Tracing Back the Evolution of Emoji!

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There has been one of the great news from New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), that original emoji (絵文字) from NTT docomo (one of the biggest mobile phone operator company) was stored permanently at the museum for its artistic significance.

The main reason for this storage is that emoji is the revolutionary design that has changed the digital communication. Who would ever know, it became such a turning point in the global history of communication. In this article, I would like to go trace back how the transformation of emotional communication via text in Japan has effected in to today.

The origin of the Emoji

I have briefly reviewed the origin of the emoji from the article about emoji fashion from 2015.

Because of the recent news about docomo emoji’s success, there have been many of the coverages about how emoji was created in more in detail. The father of emoji is Shigetaka Kurita, who used to be one of the members of launching iMode (mobile internet service for docomo) and currently an executive officer of Dwango.

His main purpose in creating the emoji for docomo email texts was, “I wanted to create another way of expression to alleviate the cold image that we get just from texts.” Before the launching of iMode, many of the teenagers using pagers in the late 1990s were using hearts, and Mr. Kurita thought that this phenomenon as “Revolutionary, because hearts are invincible. Putting hearts at the end of any of the negative emotional expressions can make it positive. I was hoping to create that colloquial tone of voice through texts.” Because the sending pictures would be too much data transfer, so Mr. Kurita’s job was to make emotional expression simple as possible. In his other interview, Mr. Kurita was very surprised to hear from MoMA about his work, and was something unexpected. He mentions, “It’s such a huge thing. It’s not that I intended for MoMA. It was just my job 20 years ago…”

Innovative and humble. And true, it was a one of the project of docomo, and coincidently, Mr. Kurita was in charge of the team. But, without his work, we may be still texting “heartless” way. Without this innovation, we couldn’t have thought of the possibilities that we have now.

Evolution of emotional texting

From docomo’s 12 x 12 dot emoji, there have been alterations and modifications to make the “emotion-less” texting in to more emotional. For example, there were also trends of “deco-mail” or “decoration mail (texts)” docomo has created. It is a compact HTML format, where colorful and playful fonts and small characters will move and flash. This format of texting was used by young teenagers and females from the early 2000s, when FOMA (3G) mobile phones from docomo became a hit.

Decoration Mail was used often like a greeting or holiday card, for celebration for birthdays and holidays. But since, there are heavy data to use for the colorfulness and the movements of the texts, many of the teenagers have worried about the packet communication fee back in the time.

Emoji was certainly very much used by teenage girls, especially within gyaru culture. Many of their communication were very decorative and flashy that many of them added so many emojis at the end of the sentences. Leading from the overuse of emojis, there were the evolutionary texting that lead to “gal texting” or “gyaru moji.”

It really looks like codes that is very difficult to decipher. But it’s just normal sentences. All those signs and symbols that are put together makes the hiragana or kanji characters, and by putting it together, it just becomes a simple sentence. I’m still not sure whether this is “emotional” representation of text, but it sure does takes a lot of effort to write in gyaru moji, so taking time and effort to send the text with gyaru moji tells how much you have thought about it as well.

Emoji in Japan now?

There has been the emoji revolution, especially in the Western environment, but what about Japan, the home of emoji?

When the news of the docomo’s emoji being exhibited at MoMA, many of the reactions from the online environment were very surprised than positively excited. Many of the reactions to these news were how nostalgic it is, and just purely “why?” For the Japanese people, emoji, or the concept itself is embedded naturally in their daily lives that many of the people were curious of why our natural culture itself is considered as art or revolution. In fact, Japanese people are so proud to be part of that culture!

Because that for the Japanese people that emoji is a natural element nowadays, there hasn’t been an excitement or trend regarding emoji ever since the spread of smartphones. Ever since the spread of smartphones, the social networking/talking app, LINE has become the new standard for texting and communicating. And when LINE has become the standard for the smartphone users now, the popularity of LINE Stamps (Stickers) has become the new wave for emotional expressions through digital texts than of emoji.

Screenshot from LINE app

Screenshot from LINE app

The original characters of LINE, Moon, Brown, Connie, and James are now the stable position as the LINE character, from there, there have been many illustrators and creators that have created their character in to LINE stamp as well.

Like emoji sensation abroad, there are character goods and exhibitions that gained popularity through LINE Stamps. For example, one of the most popular illustrator now, Kanahei, has created the characters “Usagi&Piske” which has now become one of the popular characters that are made in to many goods.

Screenshot of LINE

Usagi & Piske Sticker / Screenshot from LINE app

Not only the cute or “kawaii” types of LINE stamps, but also, there are some unusual, or rather strange and weird ones on the list as well. For example, many of the TV personalities, celebrities, comedians collaborate and became a LINE stamp, such person like Piko-taro or Nora Hirano for the most recent example. Also, there are many of the anime LINE stamps as well, that are ready for the fans to use it in their conversation, and make your favorite characters talk within your conversation.

Screenshot of LINE

Attack on Titan Sticker / Screenshot from LINE app

It just seems that emoji is now forgotten in the Japanese communication because of the LINE Stamp takeover… But some Japanese young people do use emoji with texting or on social media, but this comeback is because that emoji has become huge abroad. Current young users might not know that legendary 12×12 dot emoji was the original emoji from docomo. For the older users in the late 20s to mid 30s, who grew up with flip phones from docomo, are nostalgic using emojis, but don’t have the opportunity to do so anymore. It might be now the time to have the next step to this “emotional texting,” got any idea?

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Grad student in Tokyo. Born in Tokyo, raised in New York, studied in London. My interests lies in Tokyo's urban street cultures and girls cultures,rock music, fashion and manga. Just livin' it up :)

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