The History of the Emoji

When was the last time you picked up your phone and sent a message to a friend without ever saying a word? Chances are, that it was pretty recently. We live in a world where we can grab our phones, hit a few small pictures, and tell a story to anyone willing to hear it (or see it for that matter).

Emojis have become a bit of a standard for all of us in this day and age, but how many of us know where they came from? And how many of us know that the japanese have been using emoji for well 20 years now?

I know I sure didn’t know that until I did a little research for myself and what they were and where they came from. The story is a rather interesting one, because they have been around for quite some time.


The original “emojis” were not called emojis, but were in fact called cowmojis and were not near as sophisticated as the emojis we know today. These were created in Japan and were very similar to what we know today as emoticons.

They were basic forms punctuation with numbers and letters, depicting a person’s feelings. They differ from emoticons however because they are influenced heavily by anime, they focus more on a person’s eyes and their mouth, and they include things like, apostrophized sweat drops and slash mark blushing. In the 90s cell phone traffic in japan was much higher than it was in America, and things like internet access and large color screens were already present on their devices.

So as people began communicating more and more on these, the cowmojis made that jump with them and were used to make messages a little more deliberate and clear. A gentleman by the name of Shigetaka Kurita was working on a messenger platform in Japan called imode, which was to be used on pagers. They added a heart symbol to their list of things you could send through the messenger, and high school aged users loved it. Kurita wanted to take this idea and move it into the cell phone world, he wanted a more fluid way of expressing your emotions. So he created what he believed to be rough sketches of these feelings, with things like, sweat drops and tear waterfalls to convey the emotions he wanted, thinking they could be refined by the manufacturers.

However they were not refined and they became initial first set of emojis, and they exploded! They were hugely popular, but because they were so small, they could not be copyrighted, which means they could not stay exclusive to this platform. They began popping up in places like AOL instant messenger, and multiple places all over the internet. It was in 2008 that Apple added emojis to their list of texting icons for Japanese users, making their dreams come true. In 2010 they were added to the American version of iOS, and the rest is history.

They have been added to the Unicode consortium and Oxford Dictionary, plus becoming a staple in the lives of anyone who has used a cellphone since 2010.

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