Nihon Day Twenty Eight: Emoji Explained Part One

☺️Ah, emoji, how did we ever express our emotions without you? You took our dull, flat words and made them pop with vip and vigor πŸŽ‰. In the last couple years these little symbols have really taken off. They crawl all over the internet and are even finding their way to Hollywood (although that's a bit of a πŸ™„). Just about everyone uses them, or everyone of a certain age, but I have talked to a few people who find some of them quite confusing, especially some of the foods. πŸ” is pretty straight forward, and everyone knows what this is πŸ•. But what the heck is 🍘? Or how about 🍒? Well, those, and many other food emoji are Japanese cuisine. Didn't realize that emoji were Japanese? You're not alone. I've talked to a lot of different people who were surprised to learn this. So I thought that I would write a post about emoji, and explain the more Japan specific images. 

Emoji have been around in Japan since the late 1990s. They were originally developed by Shigetaka Kurita for NTT DoCoMo, Japan's predominant mobile service provider. The first 180 that Kurita designed were based on things like weather symbols, emotions, and kanji. NTT DoCoMo used them as a new feature for their mobile internet platform messenger.

Other users of internet communications were already developing emoticons (emotion icons), which is the technical term for punctuation faces like :) and :(. Most countries have their own versions of these easily type-able symbols. Japan was no different, with their own kaomoji (kao=face and moji=character). Kaomoji were able to be read without having to tilt your head, for example (^_^) and (O_O). Some more complex and colorful ones are (ΰΉ‘ο½₯Μ‘β—‘ο½₯Μ‘ΰΉ‘), (οΏ£^οΏ£)γ‚ž, ᕦ(Γ²_Γ³Λ‡)α•€, and *ο½₯γ‚œοΎŸο½₯*:.q..q.:*ο½₯'(*οΎŸβ–½οΎŸ*)'ο½₯*:.q. .q.:*ο½₯γ‚œοΎŸο½₯*. (my personal favorite). The new pictures that Shigetaka Kurita developed were given the name emoji meaning picture characters (e=picture and moji=character). The fact that this sounds both like emotion and emoticon is a pure coincidence. 

In recent years, emoji have taken the rest of the world by storm, mostly thanks to Apple picking them up for their mobile platforms. Now pretty much all cellphones come with them, or their own version. Today you can write entire emoji sentences or even play games with them. For instance, can you guess what book this is? πŸš™β˜οΈπŸŒ³πŸ‘ŠπŸπŸ™‡πŸ»πŸ‘“πŸš½πŸ΅πŸπŸ™ŽπŸ»πŸ“–πŸ”ͺ (if it stumps you, I'll give the answer at the end of this post). Pretty much, Emoji are fun and pretty adorable. 

Now, as promised, I'll explain some of the Japanese foods featured in emoji. 

Let's start with something pretty simple. This is a Japanese sweet potato. I've talked about them before. They're a little dryer and far sweeter than your standard sweet potato. The skin is purpleish red, the center is pale yellow. Most delicious. 

This is a melon, which might not seem more Japanese than any regular old melon, but the stem at the top is what differentiates it. This comes from the way that Japanese melons are grown, hanging from their vine so that the whole thing is blemish free. They are then clipped, when ripe, so that the stem remains in place. Japanese farmers are very particular about the aesthetics of their fruit. 

In case you've never seen a college dorm, this is a bowl of ramen. I say college ramen, because there are no yummy toppings to make it look like real authentic ramen. 

This was designated "Pot of Food" but I'm going to go further and say that it looks like nabemono, or hot pot. This is a type of Japanese stew, which you can read about in last weeks blog post

Here we have narutomaki, a type of processed fish cake. It's a popular topping on ramen. I talk about them in my kamaboko post

This is sushi, but not just any sushi. It is actually nigiri, a type of sushi that involves a small, oval ball of rice with raw fish on top. I think this looks like it's probably tuna. Incidentally, this is a review I wrote about my favorite place to get sushi. 

Here, we have a bento box, or a Japanese lunch box. The red thing on top of the rice is an umeboshi plum (pickled plum). I did a week of bento right at the beginning of my blog. 

One of my very favorite Japanese dishes, both to eat and to cook, is curry like this! Japanese curry is a thick stew that is sweetened with apple. Most delicious. 

Onigiri, or rice balls, are often this triangular shape. The green square is nori seaweed. I give instructions for making these popular lunch items on my Basics page.

Rice is such a big part of the Japanese diet, that the word for it (gohan) is a synonym for meal. Japanese rice is a short grain variety that is slightly sticky and has a mildly sweet flavor. I give instructions for making Japanese rice on the Basics page. 

Here we have dango, a type of rice dumpling, popular during the hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season. The green dango is flavored with green tea, the white is plain, and the pink is colored with food coloring. They have a pleasant, chewy texture, and can be paired with a variety of sweet sauces and glazes.

Aha! This is oden, a popular Japanese dish that consists of many different items stewed together in a mild dashi broth. The usual ingredients are fish cakes, eggs, tofu wrapped mochi, daikon, konnyaku, and octopus. Skewers are used to hold some of the ingredients. I think that this emoji is showing fish cake and perhaps daikon or mochi on a skewer. Judging by the purplish hue of the triangle, it might be konnyaku, a jelly-like cake made from the konnyaku potato. I'm actually on a mission right now to gather up the ingredients for oden, so check back soon for that post. 

This looks a bit like yaki onigiri (grilled rice ball), but it's actually a type of rice cracker called Senbei. Usually senbei are savory, but they can be sweet. They're often eaten as a snack with green tea. If you're visiting someone in Japan, they will probably offer you some. 

Western desserts are very popular in Japan, and strawberry shortcake has become a bit of a iconic food. Many bakeries take obsessive care to make the perfect sliced cakes decorated with Japanese strawberries (which are bigger and redder than standard strawberries). Strawberry shortcake is also an important part of Christmas in Japan. I made one myself and wrote about it here

This is a Japanese birthday cake, but as you can probably tell, it is also a strawberry shortcake. I told you that they were popular. I wrote about Japanese birthdays here

This is purin, or Japanese pudding. It's a very custard like pudding, with a super smooth texture. It's cooked in a caramel sauce that will end up sitting on top if you do it right. I've made it on a number of occasions, it's quite delicious.

Here we have, not ice cream, but Kakigori or shaved ice sweetened with syrup. It is a very popular summertime treat in Japan. One of my favorite Youtube channels has a tutorial for making your own watermelon shaved ice. 

Is there anything better than green tea? Good tasting, good for you, a beautiful shade. It's truly a wonderful drink. I've written before about the different types of Japanese teas. I think this is probably matcha.

This sort of looks like a baby bottle when you look at it in the tiny size of a text message 🍢, but it's actually a sake bottle and cup. Sake is often served in these traditional earthenware bottles. 

Well, that's about it. I hope this clears up some of the more obscure Japanese foods featured in emoji. Soon I'll write a follow up about the other Japanese themed emoji like πŸ‘Ί and 🎏. I'll also answer the question of why when you text "thanks" on your iPhone it asks if you want to change it to what appears to be praying hands πŸ™πŸ». 

Until next time, πŸ‘‹πŸΌβ€οΈπŸ˜Š

P.S. Oh and the answer to what book this is πŸš™β˜οΈπŸŒ³πŸ‘ŠπŸπŸ™‡πŸ»πŸ‘“πŸš½πŸ΅πŸπŸ™ŽπŸ»πŸ“–πŸ”ͺ is Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The big clues are the snake and the toilet. 

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy this one, about Japan's cute culture.