Ever wondered about some of the more mysterious emoji on your phone? There are loads of emoji that are specific to Japan, and we’ve laid out 20 of the coolest for you!
Emoji first appeared on Japanese mobile phones in 1997, and have since taken over the world of online communication. Written 絵文字 in Japanese, the characters are: ‘e’ (絵), meaning ‘picture’, and ‘moji’ (文字), meaning ‘character’.
Most people have probably scrolled idly through the emoji on their phone and come across one or two baffling little characters. From mysterious foods to unfamiliar monsters, there are plenty of unusual emoji that remind us of their Japanese origins.
Fans of anime might already be aware that the titular character of a certain show is named after the most distinctive ingredient in his favorite food, ramen! Narutomaki are made of cured fish paste, and the bite-size fish cakes are found in ramen, oden, and nimono, a kind of stewed Japanese dish. The characteristic pink or red swirl represents the whirlpools of the Naruto Strait in Japan.
It’s not winter without some oden to warm you up! Oden is a kind of hot pot dish that typically features boiled eggs, tofu, konjac, fishcakes, daikon radish, and more. It can be served with or without soup, and is often served at convenience stores and izakaya.
Sometimes, as is the case with this emoji, it is served on a skewer, but it can also be served in a cup, bowl, or just on a plate. In order from top to bottom, the emoji features konjac, satsuma-age, which is a kind of fishcake, and chikuwa, which is a chewy food made of fish paste.
Dango are a kind of Japanese dumpling that can be sweet, savory, or both. They’re related to mochi rice cakes, and the textures are very similar, but dango are a bit chewier than mochi.
There are lots of different flavors of dango, including tea, chestnut, soy sauce, and sesame. This cute emoji features hanami dango. A hanami is a traditional flower viewing party, and the colors of the hanami dango represent the cherry blossoms, snow, and leaves respectively. The green dango is usually flavored with mugwort, but green tea can also be used. Sometimes the pink one uses strawberry or cherry blossom flavoring.
Yaki imo emoji
Delicious, hot, roasted sweet potatoes are ubiquitous in Japan, and are sold from trucks, stalls at festivals, megastore Don Quijote, and supermarkets. While you wander the streets of Japan, you may even get to hear a yaki-imo truck song beckoning you with a song, much like an ice cream truck. They’re a traditional sweet treat in East Asia, forever immortalized by this adorable emoji.
5. Manga Meat
This is another one that anime and manga fans will recognize right away. This emoji shows meat of an unspecified nature on a large bone that goes right through the middle of it. It can be seen in a number of anime and manga, usually those that are more humorous in nature. Characters are generally shown tearing into it aggressively, which has led a lot of fans to want to try it for themselves!
This scrumptious-looking delicacy, unfortunately, doesn’t exist. There just aren’t any animals whose meat grows around a bone like this. Don’t despair just yet, though; a number of restaurants offer their own ‘manga meat’, although it’s unlikely to be as chewy as it usually looks in anime and manga.
6. Love Hotel
Love hotel emoji
The thin walls of Tokyo apartments and the proximity of family mean that when Japanese people want to get busy, they often turn to love hotels.
Affordable, and often very luxurious for the price, love hotels offer privacy, excitement, or just a place to crash for a few hours. This emoji definitely has lots of potential for dropping hints!
7. Post Office
Japanese post office emoji
The symbol 〒 represents Japan Post, post offices, and Japanese post codes. 〒 is from the Japanese (specifically katakana) for the sound ‘te’, which is in turn taken from the word teishin (逓信), meaning ‘communications’. A practical emoji for making a list of errands cuter, or for letting your Japanese friends know where you are.
A torii is a gate that usually marks the entrance to a shinto shrine. The name is written ‘tori’ (鳥), or ‘bird’, and 居 ‘i’, ‘being somewhere’, so it basically means ‘bird dwelling’. They represent the entrance to a sacred area, so make sure to be respectful if you ever visit one! There are a few rules you need to follow regarding where to walk and how to step through.
These distinctive gateways have a history that stretches back at least a thousand years.
This mysterious emoji is actually the symbol for a hot spring. Other symbols include the character 湯 or ゆ (both read ‘yu’), meaning ‘hot water’, and all of them can be seen on the outside of an onsen, a Japanese public hot spring bath.
Japan is famous for the many onsen you can relax at, and public bathing is a big and very normal part of Japanese culture. Not to be confused with bath houses or sento, onsen are usually natural hot springs, many of which are near volcanic areas such as Hakone or Beppu. A sento is usually a man-made bath house.
10. Tokyo Tower
Tokyo Tower emoji
Tokyo Tower is a symbol of the city in which it’s located and for which it’s named. The tower has been featured in a number of anime, dramas, and films, as it’s the perfect setting for romance and is an instantly recognizable part of the Tokyo skyline.
You can actually visit Tokyo Tower and enjoy the incredible view from what was once the tallest building in Japan. There are also restaurants, cafes, and two different observation decks to visit.
Moon viewing emoji
Hanami were mentioned a little earlier, but this is a hanami’s dramatic cousin: a tsukimi, or moon viewing party. Sometimes also called otsukimi, these celebrations are held in autumn to celebrate the full moon.
The emoji features the moon (of course), Japanese pampas grass or susuki, and more delicious dango, called tsukimi dango. The pampas grass is a traditional tsukimi decoration. In addition, offerings of sweet potato are made to the full moon, and of chestnuts and beans to the waxing moon.
There are a number of foods eaten in autumn or even year round that use the name tsukimi. Generally, these foods have got an egg slapped on top of them, which is considered to be reminiscent of a full moon. For example, you can get tsukimi burgers from a number of fast food restaurants in autumn.
12. Maru and Batsu (〇)
Maru and batsu emoji
When taking a test in Japan, you might be horrified to discover that many of your answers have been circled! The good news is that, unlike in English-speaking countries, a circle means that your answer is correct. Circles are used to say that something is OK or permissible, whereas an X is used to say that something is not allowed. You’ll see both of them being used on Japanese game shows to indicate that an answer is correct (〇) or incorrect ().
These emoji, which are available in male or female and in a number of skin tones, can be used to let someone know that something is either no problem or not allowed.
13. Prayer Beads
Prayer beads emoji
Prayer beads or juzu in Japanese are used in both Buddhism and Shinto in Japan, and are similar to a rosary. There is some variation in design from religion to religion and even within faiths, but they are generally used in meditation or prayer. In Japan, there is often a small picture inside the largest bead that connects it to a certain temple or sect.
This emoji is often used when talking about religion, magic, or even jewelry.
These carp-shaped windsocks are raised by families to celebrate Children’s Day , or Kodomo no Hi, held on May 5th. The windsocks are shaped like carp due to a Chinese legend of a carp that becomes a dragon and flies to Heaven, and when they flutter in the breeze they seem to swim. The colors blue, orange, and green are used to represent the children of a family.
Hina Ningyo emoji
These unusual dolls represent the Emperor and Empress, and are usually in a set of even more dolls. They are displayed on Doll’s Day, also called Girls’ Day or Hinamatsuri in Japanese. Hinamatsuri is celebrated on March 3rd, and people pray for girls’ continued health and happiness. As it is held around the time that peaches are in season, is also called the Peach Festival, or Momo no Sekku, and peaches are associated with the celebration.
16. Hanafuda card
Hanafuda card emoji
This beautiful card is one of 48 Japanese playing cards. The name hanafuda means ‘flower cards’, and is the name of both the cards themselves and games played with them. The cards feature bold, beautiful illustrations of flowers, animals, trees, and ribbons. They are also used in the Hawaiian game Koi-Koi and some Korean games.
This strange creature from Japanese folklore, known either as a kind of shinto god or more commonly as a yōkai, a kind of monster or spirit. Tengu were originally birds with beaks, but now they are generally depicted as human-bird hybrids. Their beaks have thus morphed into their characteristic very long noses. They were also originally considered dangerous demons, but nowadays they’re seen in a slightly less negative light, and sometimes even as good spirits.
Often translated as ogre, demon, or troll, oni are generally seen as villains in Japanese folklore. They are another kind of yōkai. Oni are usually red, blue, or green, and have horns much like the demons and devils of European folklore. Oni are also a big part of the Setsubun no Hi celebrations on February 3rd, as people throw beans to drive the oni away and bring good fortune into their homes.
19. Izakaya Lantern
Red lanterns such as this are used to indicate that a building is an izakaya, or Japanese pub. Izakaya are thus sometimes called akachōchin, meaning ‘red lantern’. They were traditionally made of silk or paper, but are now often made of plastic or vinyl to make them waterproof and durable. If you see a building with one of these hanging outside in Japan then chances are it’s an izakaya, but not always!
This emoji would be a great tongue in cheek way to let someone know you’re enjoying a night on the town!
20. Fūrin (Wind Chime)
Wind chime emoji
These elegant glass windchimes can be found all over the place during the sweltering summer months. Their design is very simple: a glass bowl-like exterior, an inner ‘clapper’ to make a sound, and a strip of paper hung from the same thread as the clapper. The paper catches the breeze and helps to create a gentle, tinkling sound. The idea is to associate the chiming sound and the sight of the paper flapping with a cooling breeze. It’s perhaps a bit mind over matter, but wind chimes are supposed to help keep you cool in Japan’s hot, humid summers. The emoji lets you take that a step further, and cool your friends down over long distances!
Now that you’ve been thoroughly educated in the ways of Japanese emoji, go out and impress your friends with your new knowledge! You can also surprise Japanese people by knowing about a range of games, festivals, and folklore. Who knew the world of emoji had such a rich cultural background?