Issue 9 |

Kaomoji as expression: Japanese emoticons in digital communication

by on December 28, 2016

On September 19, 1982, at exactly 11:44 a.m., computer scientist Scott E. Fahlman published a message onto an online bulletin board. The board was a general message platform of the Computer Science community at Carnegie Mellon University, where Fahlman had been teaching at that time. Many of the posts were benign — general announcements, requests, civil discussions ranging from ‘abortion to campus parking to keyboard layouts (in increasing order of passion)’ (Fahlman, 2007). Yet, ever so often, an unsuspecting member would crack a joke, come off as sarcastic or aggressive, and be subjected to lengthy, anguished responses by the community.

Fahlman saw that as a problem. So at exactly 11:44 a.m. on September 19, 1982, Scott E. Fahlman published a message onto that board, titled “:-)”. It was a proposal of sorts: the character sequence :-) was to be used as a joke marker. An elegant solution to address the potential misunderstandings in online text-based messaging. You would immediately be able to tell if a person was serious, simply by checking if :-) ever appeared in their messages.

Upon reading Fahlman’s message, members of the board likely tilted their heads, and after some thought, realised that the character sequence :-), if read sideways, resembled a smiling face. They were likely intrigued by Fahlman’s proposal, and started incorporating it into their messages around the net. They may have even invented new character sequences of their own.

And indeed, within a few months, :-), the “smiley face”, found itself spreading rapidly across the net. Today, the smiley face falls under a common umbrella of sequences called emoticons — a visual representation of facial expressions using symbols on the keyboard, such as punctuation marks, alphabets, and numbers. The emoticon has become an indispensable part of online communication, an injection of emotion and expression in the otherwise stale and clinical text-based messaging services. And today, Scott E. Fahlman has gone down in history as the first person to ever send a smiley face on the net (Brisson, 2015).

Unofficially, Fahlman may not have been the true inventor of the emoticon. Mentions of the smiley face have appeared in stray advertorials and interviews. Notably, Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, was quoted during an interview, when asked how he “ranked [him]self among writers (living) and of the immediate past” (Pototsky, 2013):

I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile — some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question.

This was in 1969. While some have credited Nabokov as the originator of the idea of a smiley face, it was truly Fahlman’s message, some decades later, that took the net.

And Fahlman was certainly not the last. Unknown to him and most of the Western world, the ASCII-NET — an online web service — community in Japan was busy inventing emoticons of their own. Just four years after Fahlman, the first smiley face (^_^) appeared on the Japanese ASCII-NET. This beaming face would become one of the most popular symbols in the Japanese emoticon database (Kavanagh, 2012).

Unlike Western emoticons like Fahlman’s, the Japanese smiley face (^_^) is to be read vertically with the accompanied text. Kaomoji (顔文字), as the smiley face is called, is the Japanese equivalent of ‘emoticon’. This can be literally translated into face (‘kao’ 顔) character (‘moji’ 文字), or loosely — ‘the characters of the face’. And just like an emoticon, variations of (^_^) associated with other emotions exist. Commonly found are: crying/sadness (T_T), confusion/shock (o_o), and anger ( >д<).

When kaomoji initially made its foray into the net, its use was of a different kind. Kaomoji was to be placed after the sender’s name in their online messages, serving as an online signature of sorts (Kavanagh, 2012). However, as large Japanese network companies established themselves in the 1990s, more users were drawn to online messaging services (Kavanagh, 2012). More users learnt of kaomoji, and more users began to use it: not only in their signatures, but in the main text as well. Communication became so easy — gone were the days of the stiff formalities of text, of words resting on the screen, their meaning left to open interpretation and potential confusion. Now, one could read another’s messages and picture their expression and intent behind their words. Take these two sentences for instance:

  1. ワン:今日は楽しかった
    Wan: Today was fun
  2. ワン:今日は楽しかった(*´▽`*)
    Wan: Today was fun (*´▽`*)


Both sentences are exactly the same, with the exception of the kaomoji appended at the end of (B). Let’s imagine a scenario here. Say you’ve just gone for a movie along the streets of Shinjuku with your new friend, Wan-san, and you received text (A) from him at the end. How does Wan-san truly feel about your meeting? Is he saying he had “fun” out of politeness? Is it a formality? Is he being sarcastic? Based on the text alone, you could never tell.

Now say you received text (B) from Wan-san instead. With the appended kaomoji, you could almost picture Wan-san smiling as he relayed his message to you — how his eyes narrowed as he beamed, how his mouth opened in a grin, and how his cheeks flushed in joy. You’d likely conclude that Wan-san did genuinely had fun.

Such is the power of kaomoji. As the example has demonstrated, kaomoji can efficiently and effectively express the sender’s’ feelings by injecting a layer of emotional depth into the text-based relationship between sender and receiver (Tachikawa, 2005). Sure enough, people began to realize this as the internet began to proliferate in the 1990s. Soon after, the variety and number of kaomoji ballooned. Now, not only can Wan-san express happiness (*´▽`*)over his meeting, but sadness (╥_╥), anger(╬ಠ益ಠ), and confusion (゚ペ), among others, as well. Wan-san can even pretend that he is a puppy ₍ᐢ•ﻌ•ᐢ₎*・゚。.

To date, over 10,000 kaomoji exist in online databases (, 2016). It has become “an essential component” in Japanese online messaging (keitai mail) (Sakai, 2012). In light of this, as most Japanese “automatically use” kaomoji and “interpret them without special effort”, the kaomoji has become a “natural part in their language practices” (Sakai, 2012).

Yet, as much as kaomoji has been incorporated into the vocabulary of those who employ it, its sheer range and nuance in its usage can also exclude the uninitiated from being privy to layers of meaning in an online conversation. For instance, let’s consider these kaomoji:

  1. (^.^)
  2. (o^_^o)
  3. (^-^)
  4. (^^;)


All of these kaomoji are smiling ones. Even to the uninitiated, if they squint long and hard enough, they would likely be able to infer that these kaomoji express happiness. They would likely be able to distinguish the kaomoji’s face — represented by the brackets, and its beaming eyes, represented by the caret symbol (^). They might notice the variations between the different kaomoji: the use of a semi-colon in (4), the curious addition of the letter ‘o’ in (2), the full-stop in (1), and may think nothing of them. Or they might come up with various hypotheses of their possible meanings.

However, without sufficient knowledge of kaomoji, they would be hard-pressed to realise that the use of a full-stop ‘.’ to represent the mouth in (1) symbolises a “high-class, snobbish laugh” (Markman and Oshima, 2007). Or that the ‘o’s present in (2) depict the character’s blushing cheeks, symbolising youth, affection, or a more feminine sender. Or that (3) is a popular kaomoji, reflecting a generic smile, while (4) indicates a “wry/bitter smile”, as inferred from the semi-colon, commonly used to represent cold sweat (Markman and Oshima, 2007). And even then, that’s just one interpretation of the above kaomoji. In a different cultural context, the smiling kaomoji may even be interpreted differently.

Let’s bring Wan-san back again. Consider these two text messages from him:

  1. ワン:今日は楽しかった (^^;)
    Wan: Today was fun (^^;)
  2. ワン:今日は楽しかった (^.^)
    Wan: Today was fun (^.^)


Now if you had received text (C) from him after your movie outing, you would begin to suspect Wan-san’s intentions behind his words. You would question if the semi-colon — the cold sweat — meant some kind of unaddressed anxiety or bitterness. On the other hand, if Wan-san had sent text (D) instead, you would picture Wan-san laughing at you snobbishly. You would possibly consider him an arrogant prick.

If Wan-san was unaware of these nuances, then you can clearly see how misunderstandings can occur even though kaomoji were meant to clarify the meanings behind text messages. Without an initiation into the context and culture of kaomoji, Wan-san is likely to burn many bridges.

Yet, it is because of this complexity that kaomoji is so interesting and compelling. The range of facial expressions does allow for an individual to accurately express their feelings towards a certain situation that cannot be fully captured in text. This hinges on both the sender and the receiver associating the used kaomoji with similar meanings. Moreover, kaomoji also serves as a means for expressing one’s uniqueness, as its extensive range allows for some degree of customisation in an individual’s text. In other words, even though (^-^) and (^_^) may technically mean the same thing, I may be adamant on using only (^-^) simply because of personal preference. And this choice that I can make in my text messages is what makes me singularly unique.


Naturally, using kaomoji does not resolve all misunderstandings that can arise with text-based messaging, and its complexity and extensiveness can be confusing. Alternatives have arisen in Japan, attempting to better clarify text-based online messaging. Most notably, the emoji, pre-defined graphic images, compared to the text-based images of kaomoji. Introduced in 1999 by Shingeta Kurita, the emoji — a fixed set of 2,000 graphic images — was meant to reduce the complexity of visuals accompanying text messages, while still expressing additional meaning behind the text. However, while it did spread across mobile communication in Japan, kaomoji remains by far the more popular option there (Kavanagh, 2012).

In 1986, Scott E. Fahlman posted the first smiley face on the net. On the messaging board where his message lay, you would see a :-) large and bold as the message’s header. As you read the sequence, you would close your eyes, and you swore you could almost see Scott Fahlman smile.


Brisson, Claire Marie. (2015). Hieroglyphs at Our Fingertips: Language, Semiotics, and Communication through Emoji. Wayne State University, USA. Retrieved from

Fahlman, Scott. Smiley Lore. Retrieved on 13/12/2016 from

Japanese Emoticons., 2016. Retrieved on 13/12/2016 from

Kavanagh, Barry. (2012). A Contrastive Analysis of American and Japanese Online Communication: A Study of UMC Function and Usage in Popular Personal Weblogs. Tohoku University, Japan. Retrieved from

Markman, Kris. and Oshima, Sae. (2007). Pragmatic Play? Some Possible Functions of English Emoticons and Japanese Kaomoji in Computer-Mediated Discourse. In the Association of Internet Researchers meeting 8.0: Let’s Play!, 1–19

Pototsky, Dan. (2013). Nabokov – the one who gave birth to the smiley. RBTH, Russia. Retrieved from

Sakai, Noboru. (2013). The Role of Sentence Closing As An Emotional Marker: A Case of Japanese Mobile Phone E-Mail. Discourse, Context and Media 2, 149–155

Tachikawa, Y. (2005). The use of emoticons in mobile e-mail by youth: a text analysis of e-mail. Gobun 122, 108–123.

46 Responses to “Kaomoji as expression”

  1. Abamenko Petro

    As a startup founder, I know how important it is to have a well-designed and functional app. That’s why I highly recommend checking out the app development services available at . The team provided me with the skills and expertise I needed to create an app that aligned with my startup’s goals. They were highly responsive and communicative throughout the entire process. If you’re a startup founder looking to develop an app, I highly recommend this app development service.

  2. twitch is a great platform!

  3. I’m commenting solely to inform you about the extraordinary experience our daughter had while reading the blog. She observed numerous aspects, such as the ability to possess a generous nature that enables certain individuals to learn complex concepts effortlessly. You undoubtedly surpassed the expectations of the readers. I am grateful to you for providing significant, beneficial, informative, and easily understandable tips on the subject matter.

  4. Wonderful article, thanks for putting this together! This is obviously one great post. Thanks for the valuable information and insights you have so provided here.

  5. This is a great inspiring article.I am pretty much pleased with your good work.You put really very helpful information. Keep it up. Keep blogging. Looking to reading your next post.

  6. Your blog provided us with valuable information to work with. Each & every tips of your post are awesome. Thanks a lot for sharing. Keep blogging,

  7. Thanks for sharing nice information with us. i like your post and all you share with us is uptodate and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job.

  8. Great! It sounds good. Thanks for sharing..

  9. very interesting keep posting.

  10. Thanks for a wonderful share. Your article has proved your hard work and experience you have got in this field. Brilliant .i love it reading.

  11. This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free.

  12. Thank you again for all the knowledge you distribute,Good post. I was very interested in the article, it’s quite inspiring I should admit. I like visiting you site since I always come across interesting articles like this one.Great Job, I greatly appreciate that.Do Keep sharing! Regards,

  13. Its enjoyable for me to come here and visit more here. It is terrific post dude 바카라사이트

  14. This is a great inspiring article. Good work. Keep it up, Thanks for keeping it free 카지노사이트위키

  15. I hope you continue to do this awesome blog work, I support you for your writing 온라인카지노사이트

  16. I am very thankfull to you for sharing this fantastic article, Useful to us 카지노사이트

  17. Bushra

    I am hoping the same best effort from you in the future as well. In fact your creative writing skills has inspired me. closed cell spray foam

  18. very interesting keep posting.

  19. Bushra

    Thanks for a wonderful share. Your article has proved your hard work and experience you have got in this field. Brilliant .i love it reading. stone mason

  20. Bushra

    I found your this post while searching for some related information on blog search…Its a good post..keep posting and update the information. tow truck

  21. Bushra

    i read a lot of stuff and i found that the way of writing to clearifing that exactly want to say was very good so i am impressed and ilike to come again in future.. tree removal service

  22. Bushra

    thanks for this usefull article, waiting for this article like this again. stump removal

  23. This is very educational content and written well for a change. It’s nice to see that some people still understand how to write a quality post!

  24. Bushra

    Yes i am totally agreed with this article and i just want say that this article is very nice and very informative article.I will make sure to be reading your blog more. You made a good point but I can’t help but wonder, what about the other side? !!!!!!THANKS!!!!!! dark web markets

  25. Thank you again for all the knowledge you distribute,Good post. I was very interested in the article, it’s quite inspiring I should admit. I like visiting you site since I always come across interesting articles like this one.Great Job, I greatly appreciate that.Do Keep sharing! Regards,

  26. This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free.

  27. Hello, i think that i saw you visited my blog so i came to return the favor. 바카라사이트

  28. I suppose its ok to use a few of your ideas!! Feel free to visit my website;

  29. I have read several excellent stuff here. Definitely price bookmarking for revisiting. 카지노사이트

  30. I want to encourage yourself to continue your great posts, have a nice day! 먹튀검증

  31. I’m not that much online reader but your site is really nice and would appreciate the efforts you made to create this blog. I’ll bookmark this site for more interesting blogs in future. very much informative post.

  32. Thanks for nice share, just always find a reason to put smile on your face, the brightness of your face signifies that you have no grudges with anyone

  33. Have you tried intense debate platform? It’s amazing!!!

  34. Have you tried postmag platform? It’s amazing!!!

  35. Check my Aparat for better content!

  36. My Butterfly coins has better options than this. Believe me on that!

  37. Check Dive photo For more content.

  38. Your writing style is engaging and easy to follow. I look forward to more of your content.Carroll County Reckless Driving

  39. misspuy27 misspuy27

    ข้อมูลรีวิวสล็อต Bikini Paradise สนุกสนานในเกมออนไลน์

    PG SLOT Bikini Paradise เป็นหนึ่งในเกมสล็อตออนไลน์ มีความเป็นเอกลักษณ์และมีสไตล์ที่น่าสนใจ ที่จะดึงดูดผู้เล่นมากันอย่างแน่นอน ด้วยธีมที่ทำให้คุณคลายร้อนในชายหาดและพาคุณมาสัมผัสบรรยากาศของสวรรค์ทางเลือกที่เต็มไปด้วยเสน่ห์แห่งความสุขและความอิ่มอร่อย ที่มาพร้อมกับเหล่าสาวกบิกินี่ที่สวยงามและมีประสบการณ์ในการเต้นรำในหน้าหาด นี่คือเหตุผลที่ทำให้เกมนี้เป็นหนึ่งในเกมสล็อตที่ควรลองเล่น
    ภาพกราฟิกที่สวยงาม Bikini Paradise มีภาพกราฟิกที่สวยงามและสวยงามมาก ที่ช่วยให้คุณมีประสบการณ์การเล่นที่น่าตื่นเต้นและสนุกสนานอย่างแท้จริง ภาพที่สวยงามนี้จะพาคุณเข้าสู่โลกของบิกินี่และชายหาดที่สวยงามอย่างไม่เหมือนใคร
    การเล่นที่คงที่และง่ายเกมนี้มีระบบการเล่นที่คงที่และง่ายต่อการเรียนรู้ ดังนั้นคุณไม่จำเป็นต้องมีประสบการณ์การเล่นสล็อตมาก่อนเพื่อสนุกกับเกมนี้ได้
    โอกาสในการชนะ Bikini Paradise มาพร้อมกับโอกาสในการชนะที่ดี ด้วยการจ่ายเงินที่สูงและการชนะที่มีความถี่ คุณมีโอกาสในการชนะเงินรางวัลที่มากกว่าเกมสล็อตอื่น ๆ
    ฟีเจอร์โบนัส เกมนี้มีฟีเจอร์โบนัสที่น่าสนใจที่จะช่วยเพิ่มโอกาสในการชนะ เช่น เกมเดิมพันฟรีและฟีเจอร์โบนัสพิเศษอื่น ๆ ที่ทำให้เกมมีความสนุกสนานมากขึ้น
    ประสบการณ์การเล่นสนุกสนาน สำหรับผู้ที่ต้องการสนุกสนานและผ่อนคลาย การเล่น PG SLOT Bikini Paradise เป็นทางเลือกที่ดี เนื่องจากมันทำให้คุณสามารถแลกเปลี่ยนอากาศหนาวของทางภาคเหนือกับความอบอุ่นของชายหาดได้อย่างง่ายดาย
    การวางเดิมพันแบบหลายระดับ Bikini Paradise มีระบบการวางเดิมพันแบบหลายระดับที่ช่วยให้คุณสามารถปรับแต่งการเดิมพันตามความพร้อมของคุณ คุณสามารถเล่นด้วยเดิมพันที่ต่ำหรือสูงได้ตามต้องการของคุณ เมื่อคุณรู้สึกพร้อม คุณสามารถเพิ่มเดิมพันเพื่อเพิ่มโอกาสในการชนะมากขึ้นได้ด้วยตัวเอง
    รางวัลแจ็คพอต Bikini Paradise อาจไม่เสมือนกับสล็อตแบบโปรเกรสซีฟที่มีแจ็คพอตใหญ่โตมากๆ แต่ก็ยังมีโอกาสในการชนะแจ็คพอตที่มีค่าเสียงดี นี่คือโอกาสที่น่าตื่นเต้นที่คุณอาจไม่ควรพลาด
    ความเพลิดเพลินในการเล่น Bikini Paradise เป็นเกมที่ทำให้คุณมีความสนุกสนานและเพลิดเพลินในการเล่น การดูสาวกบิกินี่เต้นรำและสายชายที่หลงใหลในชายหาดอาจทำให้คุณมีรอยยิ้มบนใบหน้าตลอดเวลาที่คุณเล่น
    สนุกกับเพลงและเสียง เกมนี้มาพร้อมกับเพลงและเสียงที่เพลิดเพลิน ซึ่งช่วยเพิ่มบรรยากาศและความสนุกสนานของการเล่น มันเป็นประสบการณ์ที่สมบูรณ์แบบที่รวมถึงทั้งสายตาและหู
    รูปแบบการชนะที่หลากหลาย นอกจากการชนะโดยเรียงสัญลักษณ์ให้ตรงกันแล้ว ยังมีโอกาสในการชนะผ่านรูปแบบที่หลากหลาย เช่น การชนะแบบแถวแนวนอนหรือแนวนอนสลับกัน ซึ่งเพิ่มความน่าสนใจในการเล่น
    ความเป็นระบบและความเสถียร เกม Bikini Paradise มาพร้อมกับระบบและเทคโนโลยีที่มีความเสถียรที่ช่วยให้คุณมั่นใจในความเป็นฟรีแลนซ์ของการเล่น เมื่อคุณเล่นเกมนี้ คุณสามารถมั่นใจได้ว่ามันถูกสร้างขึ้นโดยผู้พัฒนาที่มีชื่อเสียงและถูกควบคุมอย่างเข้มงวด
    ความเหมาะสมสำหรับทุกความถนัด Bikini Paradise เป็นเกมที่เหมาะสำหรับทุกความถนัดการเล่น ไม่ว่าคุณจะเป็นผู้เล่นใหม่หรือมีประสบการณ์มาก่อน คุณสามารถเริ่มต้นได้ง่ายและมีสิทธิ์ในการเล่น
    การเล่นบนโทรศัพท์มือถือ หากคุณต้องการเล่น Bikini Paradise ในการเดินทางหรือเมื่อคุณต้องการสัมผัสความสนุกแบบพกพา คุณสามารถเข้าเล่นเกมนี้บนโทรศัพท์มือถือหรือแท็บเล็ตได้ด้วยความรอบรู้ง่ายๆ
    การพัฒนาฟังก์ชั่นเพิ่มเติม ผู้พัฒนาเกมอาจทำการอัพเดตและเพิ่มฟังก์ชันเพิ่มเติมให้กับ Bikini Paradise อย่างสม่ำเสมอ เช่น การเพิ่มเกมโบนัสใหม่ ๆ หรือการจัดกิจกรรมพิเศษ เพื่อให้คุณมีประสบการณ์การเล่นที่ไม่เคยน่าเบื่อ
    ความมั่นคงและความปลอดภัย Bikini Paradise ปฏิบัติการในระดับที่มีความปลอดภัย ที่จะให้คุณเล่นอย่างสบายใจโดยไม่ต้องกังวลเรื่องความเป็นส่วนตัวและความมั่นคงของข้อมูลส่วนบุคคลของคุณ
    ดังนั้นหากคุณกำลังมองหาประสบการณ์การเล่นสล็อตที่มีสไตล์และเนื้อหาที่น่าสนใจ ไม่ควรพลาดที่จะลองเล่น PG SLOT Bikini Paradise และสนุกกับการพักผ่อนบนชายหาดกับสาวกบิกินี่สาวสวยๆ ในเกมนี้
    PG SLOT Bikini Paradise มีทั้งความสนุกสนานและโอกาสในการชนะมากมาย หากคุณค้นหาประสบการณ์การเล่นสล็อตที่น่าตื่นเต้นและมีสไตล์ที่ไม่เหมือนใคร ไม่ควรพลาดที่จะลองเล่นเกมนี้ สนุกไปกับบิกินี่และชายหาดในแบบที่คุณไม่เคยทดลองมาก่อน

  40. kalebramirez2020

    A shields vector is like a protective force field, creating a layer of defense against potential threats. It’s a powerful concept in both science fiction and real-world applications, where it symbolizes the idea of safeguarding and shielding against danger.

  41. THE88THAI: The best place to win big. With huge jackpots up for grabs, you could be a winner in no time. Our games are fair and transparent, so you can be sure that you’re playing with a reputable company. We also offer a variety of payment options to make it easy for you to deposit and withdraw your winnings. And we’re always working to improve our odds, so you have a better chance of winning. Sign up today and start winning!

  42. Maryjo E. Wilson

    Celebrating the beauty and vibrancy of seniors who identify as BBW is so important. It’s fantastic to see spaces where individuals of all shapes, sizes, and ages can come together, find community, and embrace body positivity. In a world that often prioritizes youth and certain beauty standards, these communities shine a light on the richness and diversity of experiences among seniors who proudly identify as BBW It’s about fostering inclusivity, respect, and appreciation for every individual, regardless of societal norms. Cheers to celebrating uniqueness and promoting self-confidence within the senior BBW community!


Leave a Comment