Nihon Day Thirty Three: Emoji Explained Part Three

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Since I wrote my first two explanations of emoji (the first explaining the Japanese food and the second explaining the other Japanese emoji), there have been a few updates to the texticon. This has brought us a number of new emoji that have clear ties to Japanese culture. Since "Emoji Explained One and Two" are consistently my most popular posts, I thought I would carry on the tradition. In this post I plan to explain both the new Japanese emoji and a couple I missed on the first round. I hope you enjoy!


Let’s start with the Alien Monster emoji. There isn’t anything inherently Japanese about aliens in general, but on most devices, this little guy is designed after the 8-bit aliens from Space Invaders. This classic arcade game came out in 1978 and was developed by Tomohiro Nishikado and originally released in Japan with the name スペースインベーダー (Supēsu Inbēdā.) It was the first game of its kind and pretty much invented the shooter game genre. The goal was to move a small space ship across the bottom of the screen, shooting up at a seemingly endless cascade of aliens. At the time it was massively successful and, if you adjust for inflation, it is still the most lucrative video game in history.


It’s no secret that Japan loves robots. A lot of robotic advancements have come from that country, not to mention a plethora of giant robot characters and cartoons. Right now, I specifically want to talk about “Robot Face” the emoji that looks like, well, a robot’s face. On most devices, it’s styled after a classic vintage tin robot face. Did you know that the first tin robot was designed and released in Japan? Lilliput was a boxy looking, yellow, tin robot that came out in the late 1940s. It was soon followed by Atomic Robot Man, who looked far more like the Tin Man. These first Japanese robots were imported to American and set off the tin robot craze that dominated toys of the 1950s. Years later, Japan would do this again with Transformers, which were designed in Japan, though an American toy.


I’m going to warn you guys, this one is really adorable. Okay, so, umbrellas aren’t particularly romantic in America. I mean, nobody really thinks of them as romantic. Not so in Japan, where two people walking together under one umbrella is considered adorably romantic. There is even a term for it, Ai-Ai gasa, which literally translates to “love-love umbrella.” How cute is that? There is a tradition where children write their name under an umbrella next to the name of their crush. Schoolchildren in America do this too, but usually in a heart. A friend of mine, who lived in Osaka for several decades, told me about this. She said that the tradition comes from the old days when the only acceptable way for an unmarried couple to be very close to each other was while walking under an umbrella.


I’m not sure if this emoji is actually inspired by this, but I thought it was an excellent opportunity to talk about randoseru. These Japanese backpacks are traditionally used by Japanese school children. They’re made from leather and are black for boys and red for girls. In recent years, other colors have become acceptable. You can even buy covers and change the look of your randoseru whenever you like. Since the backpacks are supposed to last a child from first grade to high school, they’re usually pretty good quality.


The Three Wise Monkeys are very recognizable. You see them all over the place, from ceramic statues found at Target to, well, emojis. You might even know that they’re Japanese in origin. But, I bet you didn’t know that the monkeys have names. Mizaru, who sees no evil; Kikazaru, who hears no evil; and Iwazaru, who speaks no evil. As for the cheeky addition you sometimes see who is covering up his privates, I don’t know his name, but we’ll call him Chad. Three Wise Monkeys originate from a carving above the door of Tosho-gu shrine in Nikko, Japan (pictured above). It’s supposed to represent Confucius’s Code of Conduct. The use of monkeys comes from a clever play on words (as with many great Japanese inventions). The phrase is mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru or “see not, hear not, speak not.” -zaru which turns the words into their negative form is the same as zaru, a modified form of saru, the Japanese word for monkey. So the reference to monkeys was hidden in the wording. Plus, monkeys were already an important part of Japanese folklore and Tendai Buddhism.


Yes, more about monkeys. This emoji “Monkey Face” is supposed to be a Japanese Macaque (so are the Three Wise Monkeys.) You might have also heard them called snow monkeys, a name they earned by living in the cold regions of Japan where a lot of the time it is snowy. Besides humans, they are the only primates to live so far north. Macaques are brownish-grey, with red faces and short tails. In Japan, they are the subject of many folktales and legends.


I should think that everyone is pretty familiar with the concept of astrology. Even if you don’t believe in it, I bet you know your sign. However, not nearly as many Americans know what their Chinese Zodiac animal is. Unlike western astrology, the zodiac goes through a twelve-year cycle. For instance, this year (2019) is the year of the pig. Next year will be the year of the rat. But its also tied to the Chinese Calendar, which moves according to the moon and therefore Chinese New Year also moves. So if you’re born in January or February, you should check when the New Year was at the time. Chinese Restaurant placemats are convinced that I am a goat, but Chinese New Years was after my birthday in 1991, so I am actually a horse. Other Asian countries adopted the Chinese Zodiac, including Japan, though they use a sheep instead of a goat and a boar instead of a pig. It’s still an important part of the culture today, even though since 1873, Japan has been using the Georgian Calendar and celebrated the New Year on January 1st.


I mentioned Japanese puffer fish a few posts ago when talking about how I ended up eating one while in Japan. I’ll let myself explain:

I told them how much I liked it and in an offhand way Saburo-San said, "yes, fugu is the poisonous pufferfish." I nearly choked on my fugu liver gravy. 

If you've never heard about the poisonous pufferfish and its role in Japanese food, you clearly don't write a blog about Japanese food. People bring it up to me all the time. I'm pretty sure at least one person asked me if I would be eating some on my trip. They always want to know what I think about "the world's deadliest dish", sashimi made from pufferfish. My answer is always the same, I don't really know anything about it, it doesn't interest me. This might surprise you since I claim to be interested in everything to do with Japan. But, ever since I was a little kid and I accidentally ate false lily of the valley (a poisonous plant), I have been very keen to avoid any poisonous foods. I never had any plans to eat pufferfish. But, fate seemed to think it would be funnier if I did it without realizing it. 

"So," I said, trying to sound unconcerned, "this was once poisonous?" Jiro-San nodded and explained to me that when they make the dish they prepare it in such a way that there is no poison left. With fugu sashimi (fugu sashi), the chef, who must be specially certified, doesn't get rid of the poison totally. They leave a small amount, which won't kill anybody, but causes mild euphoria. With the Goto specialty, they leave no poison at all.

To read more about this meal, read the full post here.


Octopus in Japan has been a delicious food for a long time. It’s an essential part of Oden and absolutely necessary to takoyaki. I ate takoyaki a couple times when I was in Japan two years ago. A spherical Japanese snack, made in a special type of pan using wheat batter. There is a piece of octopus tentacle in the molten hot, battery center. It’s delicious. Squid are also eaten in Japan, usually as sashimi or tempura.


Chestnuts may call to mind open fires and the spirit of Christmas, but in Japan, the large, sweet nuts have been cultivated for quite some time. Candied chestnuts are particularly popular, especially as a New Year dish.


Dumplings are probably familiar to you as Chinese food. That is indeed their origin, though Japan has its own version known as gyoza. They came over to Japan at the end of WWII, when Japanese soldiers returned from China. They’re very similar to Chinese dumplings, jiaozi, though the filling has a stronger flavor and the wrappers are thinner. Gyoza is usually made with a pork filling and can be served steamed, pan-fried, or deep fried. Pan fried, where the flat side of the gyoza is seared brown, is the most popular version.


Another Chinese origin food, this is a mooncake. I learned all about them when I was a little kid, obsessed with Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat, a PBS show based on Amy Tan’s children book of the same title. Mooncakes are a baked pastry, filled with red bean or lotus seed paste. They often have whole duck egg yolks inside, which are supposed to represent the Full moon. They’re an integral part of the Mid-Autumn Festival. In Japan, they’re called geppei and are available year round, especially in Japan’s Chinatowns. The red bean paste is the most popular filling for Japanese geppei, though they also make them with chestnut paste. Once, I attempted to make these at home when I was attending a potluck Chinese New Year party. It didn’t go well. They’re very difficult to get right.


I wrote about chopsticks before, in my post about making them with my dad. This is what I said about them:

China, the country that invented chopsticks over six thousand years ago, prefer a duller point on the end. Korea likes chopsticks made of metal that are flat, I can't even wrap my head around using flat chopsticks. In Japan they like a sharper point, often incorporate ridges on the ends to prevent slippage, and have different lengths for men, women, and children.


This building, with a red kanji on the front, is a Japanese postoffice.


This is a Japanese Post box. Pretty adorable, right?


I think this one is hilarious because people often mistake it for a “get well soon” symbol, due to its resemblance to a hospital. It is, in actuality, a love hotel. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s a hotel that charges by the hour, rather than the night. If you can’t think why that would be, you have a innocent mind, good for you. Love hotels are certainly not solely a Japanese phenomenon but they are common enough to warrant the Love Hotel Emoji being included in the first generation. Rooms rented in this way have been around in Japan since the 17th century, used my prostitutes and their clientele. After WWII, the modern versions started popping up in Ueno, Tokyo. When prostitution was made illegal in 1958 and the business went underground they boomed in popularity. However, it wasn’t just for prostitutes and their Johns. Many married couples would use them in order to engage in adult activities away from their children, as single room apartments were common. Today there are a lot of regulations imposed on love hotels, meaning they are less flashy and garish than they used to be. The image I picked above is from Maison Ikkoku, my favorite shojo manga. Several chapters in this series revolve around a series of misunderstandings that occur when the main character goes to a love hotel to pick up a friend of his and is spotted coming out with her. However, the event actually causes the happy ending, as it forces him and this lady love to finally hash out their feelings for each other. Beautiful (*sniff).


This one is only confusing in some versions of emoji, like Micrsoft’s and Facebook Messenger. It looks like a sign for Pepsi, but it’s actually a Japanese bus stop.


The Shinkansen, or bullet trains, are super high speed trains that cover 1,717.8 miles of tracks across Japan. They are able to travel 150–200 mph, which is, you know, pretty fast. Personally, I took a Shinkansen from Sendai to Tokyo. It took an hour and forty minutes rather than the seven hours it would take on a regular train. Sadly, it was late at night, so I couldn’t even tell how fast we were going.


Wait a minute, you may be thinking, isn’t that an Easter Isand head? Yes and no. It’s also the Moyai Statue, which is near Shibuya Station in Tokyo.


Manga and anime has a number of symbols that they use to exaggerate emotions. This one, using four or three half circles, is intended to be a popping vein in someone’s forehead. It’s used for extreme anger.


Though this can obviously be used for a lot of different things (water for instance) it also works for another manga/anime symbol. Often a character will be shown with an exaggerated sweat droplet on the back or side of their head. This means that they are exasperated, embarrassed, or shocked.


This symbol is often used to mark Japanese hot springs, or onsen, on maps. Its supposed to represent a bath with steam rising up.


This is chun, the red dragon tile from a Japanese Mahjong game. In Japan, the game is played very similarly to the Chinese version


I wrote about these playing cards in my post about Nintendo.

Playing cards were introduced to Japan in 1549, when Dutch traders brought along a pack of hombre cards. The game was embraced and became very popular over the country, not just for amusement, but for gambling. However, when Japan closed its borders in 1633, the government also banned western cards. Really though, when has banning something ever eradicated it? Cards continued to be used for illegal gambling. New cards were invented and new games, but every time they started to be used for gambling, the government would ban them. This song and dance continued until the end of the Edo period when Hanafuda (flower cards) were invented. The idea behind these cards was that since they had no numbers, only pictures, they wouldn't be used for gambling. 

I bought several packs of Hanafuda at a 100 yen shop in Sendai. They made great stocking stuffers.


This is a name tag from a Japanese kindergarten. They’re most often used during field trips. It’s intended to be a tulip.


This shoshinsha mark is a sticker that new drivers in Japan must display on their vehicle for a year after receiving their license.


I believe people in America often use this for McDonalds, but its actually a ioriten or part alternation mark. It’s used in traditional Japanese music styles, like noh or renga, to mark the start of the singer’s part.


This emoji is using common Japanese body language for “no good.”


This emoji is using common Japanese body language for “okay.”


“Here” as in a destination.


Chinese for “moon” or “month.”


This one is a little confusing. It means “a finger or a toe pointing in a certain direction.” It’s unclear to me in what context you might use it.


Means “cut” or “divide.” Used for discounted prices.


Means “prohibit,” “restrict” or “forbid.”


This kanji either means “request” or “monkey” as in the Chinese zodiac monkey.


Means “congratulations.”


Means “work.” Used for “open for business” proceeding business hours.


This symbol is used to indicate something is free of charge or on the house.


Means to “own” or “possess.”


This means that something is a good bargain.


To lack or have nothing of a particular thing.


“Accept” or “acceptable.”


“Agreement,” “unite,” or “joined together.”


Means “empty” or “vacant.” Used to indicate an available parking spot or hotel room.


Means “secret.”


Means “full.” Used to indicate something has reached its full capacity, like a pre-paid phone card or a gas tank.

So there you have it. Even more Japanese emojis explain. I hope you found it informative. If you have any questions about other obscure emojis, feel free to ask about them in the comment section below. I know a lot of people are curious about the 🕴 “levitating business man” emoji. It’s not of Japanese origins, so I didn’t write about it, but if you want to know you can find out about it here.

If you enjoyed this post, check out the first and second ones I wrote about emoji.

Until next time, 😜❤️🙏🏻👋🏼