Nihon Day Thirty: Emoji Explained Part Two

As promised, here is the follow up to Emoji Explained Part One. If you haven't read that post, I suggest you go check it out, since it has a lot of info on the origin of emoji. It also has all the Japanese food emoji explained. In this post we will discuss the other emoji that have specifically Japanese origins. 

 

This one is pretty obvious, it is the Japanese archipelago! Did you know that the country of Japan is made up of 6,852 islands? The four main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Below Kyushu stretch the Ryukyu islands: Osumi, Tokara, Amami, Okinawa, and the Sakishima Islands. 

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Another clear one, this is the iconic Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan. Though it hasn't erupted since 1708, it's actually an active volcano (a stratovolcano to be precise). For centuries, Mount Fuji has inspired countless artist, poets, and laypeople alike. 

Here we have a traditional Japanese Castle. These beautiful buildings were constructed of stone and wood, and were mighty fortresses as well as the homes of nobility. The photograph above is one of the most famous and iconic in Japan, Himeji Castle in Himeji, Hyogo. It was constructed in 1333 during the Muromachi period. 

This is titled "Shinto Shrine", but to be more specific it is the torii gate outside a shinto shrine. These gates represent the transition from the profane world outside, to the sacred world of the shrine. The word torii literally translates to "bird abode", which is just lovely.

This might look like a bell buoy, but it's actually the, much more impressive, Tokyo Tower. Built in 1958, during the post war boom, it is a red, lattice styled structure. It was inspired by the Eiffel Tower, but at 1,092 feet (332.9 metres) it beats that tower by 29 feet. Still, it is the second tallest structure in Japan, as the Tokyo Skytree outstripped it in 2011. The Skytree is 2,080 feet and is the second tallest structure in the world. 

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This is one of those emoji that I can't imagine is ever used outside of Japan. I'm not going to lie, this looks like a deodorant brand. 109 is actually a department store in Shibuya Tokyo. It's been around since 1979 and is apparently a great place for people who like to shop. The name comes from the operator Tokyu, and is a clever pun. You see, ten in Japanese is to and nine is kyu

The Nisshoki or Hinomaru is the flag of Japan. It's a simple design, but one that is embodied with much history and mythology. The red dot represents the rising sun, which is in itself a symbol of Japan, as compared to mainland China they are "the land of the rising sun". The sun is also important to Japan, since the imperial family is said to be descended from Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun. There are emoji flags for just about every nation, but Japan is the only one represented twice, with the standard flag and the crossed flags. Though interestingly, on Samsung devises the crossed flags are South Korea's Taegukgi. 

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This is a bundle of bank notes, specifically the Japanese 1,000 yen note. It might seem like a large amount of money, but this is the lowest bill of currency currently in circulation. At the writing of this post, 1,000 yen comes to about $8.76. Featured on the 1,000 yen note is Hideyo Noguchi, a bacteriologist, who is best known for discovering the cause of progressive paralytic disease, in 1911. This might seem like a strange person to put on your money, but I think it's cool that they chose a scientist. As a point of interest, Japan's 5,000 yen note has Ichiyo Higuchi on it, a female writer from the Meiji period, famous for her short stories. The 10,000 yen note shows the writer, and founder of Keio University, Fukuzawa Yukichi. 

Koinobori, or carp streamers, are a traditional wind sock, flown on May 5th, Tango no Sekku (Children's Day). They're thought to bring good luck to children, so they will grow healthy and strong. Generally the top two fish represent the father and mother, and then fish at the bottom are added for the number of children in the household. 

Though you might think that these are simply a man and a woman sitting side by side, they are actually hina-ningyo. These very beautiful Japanese ornamental dolls are dressed in the courtly fashions of the Heian period (794–1185). Once a year they are displayed for Hinamatsuri, the Doll Festival. This holiday is actually March 3rd, but the dolls are usually put out on display sometime in February and taken down directly after the festival. Their perch is a red carpet covered platform with several tiers. The top platform holds the emperor and empress, sitting before two golden screens. Below them are three court ladies, five musicians, two minstrels, and three warriors (or samurai).  

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Here we have a scene from another festival, Tsukimi, or Moon Viewing. This holiday takes place on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the traditional Japanese calendar and again on the thirteenth of the ninth month. If you're a bit lost, just know that they generally happen sometime in September and October. Tsukimi has it's origins in the Heian period. Today some of the traditions include decorations made from Japanese pampas grass and eating rice dumplings called tsukimi dango. 

Another holiday that can trace it's origin back to the Heian period is Tanabata, or the Star Festival. Tanabata (7th of July through August) was adapted from the Chinese Qixi festival, and celebrates the legend of two star crossed lovers, literally. Orihime and Hikoboshi are two deities and also the stars Vega and Altair. They're separated by the milky way, but legend states that on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month they can meet again. During the festival, people write wishes on small pieces of paper called tanzaku,which are then hung on bamboo. 

 

Kadomatsu are special decorations used during New Years. They are made with bamboo for prosperity, pine for longetivy, and occasionally ume sprigs for steadfastness. Two kadomatsu are usually placed on either side of a gate or doorway and are intended to be temporary homes for kami. To learn more about kami, read this post

This is a beautiful, pink cherry blossom. I wrote extensively about Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing last year. There are countless cherry trees across Japan and they blossom in glorious beauty when spring's warm weather first comes. These trees are much beloved and admired. 

Kimono are the tradition clothing of Japan, originating in Muromachi period (1392–1573), and still common for formal or festive occasions today. The shape of the kimono is that of a T, and since the Edo period they have had quite long sleeves. They are paired with an obi across the waist, which is tied at the back in a pleasing fashion. Though today kimono are most often seen on women, they are a unisex garment. 

 

This is a martial arts uniform, also known as a gi. It's probably familiar to anybody who's ever seen The Karate Kid, where many of the characters sport karategi for the finale. They are also used in judo, where they are called judogi (notice a pattern?) and are made from a stiffer material. Point of interest, karate was developed on the Ryukyu islands during the 1300s. It was brought over from China during a time of diplomatic and cultural exchanges. Judo was developed in the early Meiji period (1868–1912), by Jigoro Kano, who started out learning jujutsu. Jujutsu was a martial art developed in the Muromachi period, around the same time as karate was starting in Ryukyu. Unlike Chinese martial arts and karate, jujutsu, and therefor judo, focuses on throwing and pinning rather than striking. The main reason for this is that jujutsu was intended for use on the battlefield where your opponent was likely wearing armor and therefore striking would be much harder. Jujutsu also uses techniques intended to be used against someone holding a long sword. Pretty neat. 

Remember when you were a kid and you got your homework back and found a shiny gold star sticker on it? Or maybe a thumbs up, or some other good job emblem? That's essentially what we have here, a stamp for excellent homework. The writing translates roughly to "Well Done". 

This is not chocolate ice cream. It is, in fact, a smiling pile of poop. Okay, Japan can be somewhat weird sometimes, it's one of the reason why I love learning about it. There has been a bit of a poop obsession in Japan for some time now. It seems to originate in a pun (Japan loves puns), as the word for poop, unko, makes the same oon sound as the word for luck (un). Golden poops are a popular luck charm in Japan. Dr. Slump, a manga by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, did a lot for bringing poop into the humorous kawaii world. The manga often featured toilet humor and piles of poop abound through the pages. There was even an animate, pink hued, pile of poop with arms, legs, and a face. Side note, did you know that Japan has a whole museum dedicated to defecation? It's called Toilet!? Human Waste & Earth's Future. No, I'm not joking, that's really what it's called. 

There are two dog emoji available in the texticon, the dog face 🐶, and the dog standing in profile. Obviously dogs are not specific to Japan, but have you ever wondered precisely why the dog is a curly tailed spitz type dog? Well, that would be because the dog breeds of Japan generally are. You see, the basal breeds from that country, the Akita, Shiba Inu, Shikoku, Kai Ken, and Hokkaido (Ainu) are all descended from the Matagi-ken hunting dogs. These were the Jomon period working companions of the indigenous Ainu people of Japan. They were bred to hunt deer, boars, and even bears. They're characterized by their thick coats, pointed ears and muzzles, and curled up tails. The picture above is of a Shiba Inu.

Japanese dragons, or Ryu, are long and serpent like. Generally they're said to live in the oceans, clouds, or heavens, though Japanese dragons do not fly as often as the Chinese or Korean types. You can tell whether you're looking at a ryu or a long (China) or yong (Korea) because they have three digits to each foot, as apposed to five or four. Often they are shown with antlers and long whiskers. The emoji of the full dragon appears to be clutching a jewel in his three claws, which leads me to believe that he is Ryujin, the god of the ocean. He is in possession of the Tide Jewels, which he uses to control the tides. Ryujin is said to live in a palace made of red and white coral. The imperial family is descended from Ryujin by way of his daughter Otohime. 

Oni are a type of Japanese yokai or demon. They're usually translated as "ogre" or "troll", and they do have some similarities with those western folk beings. They have wild hair, sharp claws and teeth, horns, and red or blue skin. Generally you see them depicted in tiger skin loin cloths and carrying an iron club. This emoji is actually representing an oni mask, used in traditional Japanese theatre. 

 

The tengu is another type of red faced, humanoid character of Japanese folktales. They are both represented as yokai and kami, making them somewhat less malevolent. Tengu are related to great birds of prey and are often shown with wings or talons. Originally they had beaks, but over time they were softened into their classic long nosed human faces. Through still thought of as dangerous, tengu are now seen as protectors and spirits of the mountains and forests. Popular as characters in traditional Japanese theatre, the emoji depicts a tengu mask. 

Absolutely the most widely recognizable pieces of Japanese artwork, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa is the work of the master ukiyo-e artist, Katsushika Hokusai. It was published in the 1830s during the late Edo period, an era known for its artistic and cultural output. It was the first piece in Hokusai's Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji series (you can just see Fuji in the background). This series was groundbreaking because it often depicted scenes of common people going about their common business in foreground, with the majestic mountain in the background. This was unprecedented before Hokusai thought of it. Though many people take the wave to be a tsunami, it is more likely a rogue wave.

This looks a bit like wheat, but it is of course ears of rice. Rice was first brought to Kyushu from the Chinese mainland sometime in the third century BCE. It can be grown in areas that are swampy or mountainous, places that would usually be difficult to cultivate. Japan has an abundance of such land and it soon spread throughout the country becoming a dietary staple. The Japanese word for rice is gohan, and you can see it’s cultural and dietary importance in the words for breakfast (asagohan), lunch (hirugohan), and dinner (bangohan). Even Japan’s indigenous name for its self, mizu ho no kuni, roughly translates to “the land of the water stalk plant”, namely rice. It is still cultivated widely in Japan, where domestically grown rice is considered the best.

This is clearly a paper lantern, but it’s also a special type used at certain eateries. Most commonly you will see them outside izakaya (Japanese pubs), but they’re also used for sushi restaurants and takoyaki stands.

 

Furin are a traditional bell type wind chime, traditionally used in the summer. They’re hung from the eaves of the house and have a beautiful sound to complement the chirping crickets and buzzing cicada. The strip of paper hanging from the end, called a tanzaku, adds a pleasing flutter.

There are lots of differences between Japanese and western etiquette, but perhaps the most well known is the bow. Learned from infant-hood, thebow is a very important gesture to have. It can be informal (pretty much just bowing the head), formal (bowing at a thirty degree angle), or very formal (a deep bow). Either way, bows come from the hips, with a straight back, hands held at the side for boys and men, and clasped in the lap for girls and women. This emoji appears to be from the kneeling position, where the hands are put in front of the bowed head. There are many nuances to bows, depending on situation, or social status.

This was one that I thought was pretty interesting, since when you are typing thanks on an iPhone it suggests this emoji. I already knew this gesture from watching Japanese movies and reading manga, but I thought it must seem strange to some. “Why praying hands? Am I thanking god?” Well, here’s the deal, in Japan when you’re thanking someone for a meal, often you will clap your hands in front of your face. It’s also used if you’re asking for a favor or even asking to be forgiven for something. There are a lot of interesting etiquette and body language features in Japan. For more information, check out this guide from Tofugu. 

Well, that's more or less it for the emoji that are specific to Japan. I hope this has been a helpful and enlightening post. If there were any emoji that I missed, which you find confusing, feel free to comment below.

Until next time, 👋🏼🙏🏻❤️

If you enjoyed this post, you should check out this one about food emoji. Or you might like this one about the history of Nintendo.