The story behind Asian emoticons, or these things: (‘◉◞౪◟◉’)


A popular Chinese cartoon character based on kaomoji faces.

Have you ever wondered what the deal is with those elaborate Asian emoticons?

They’re called yanwenzi in Chinese (face characters) and kaomoji in Japanese. Their exact origins are a little fuzzy, but they originated from Japan, probably first appearing on Japan’s ASCII-based net way back around 1986. Compared to Western emoticons, which were invented by Scott Fahlman at IBM in 1982, they don’t have to be read sideways from left to right, and have more expressive eyes.

The Japanese inventor of emoji (which are different from kaomoji), Shigetaka Kurita, said in an interview that emojis were invented as a way to make up for the breakdown in communication that occurred when Japanese people switched to the shorter digital forms of communication like email instead of letters. Fahlman suggested the 🙂 as a “joke marker” for online forums at his university’s bulletin board, so kaomoji may have been invented for similar reasons.

What makes kaomoji different is that they incorporate double-byte characters from Japanese and, eventually, other languages like Chinese and Finnish, to create elaborate and complex pictures that can even tell stories.

Here are five famous kaomoji:



Here is the Kanye shrug, or Shruggie, popularized by the Kanye-Swift incident at the 2010 VMAs.


(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

This is a guy flipping a table over in anger, in high demand among Chinese net users.



These are dongers, a meme created by a League of Legends player, who tweeted “Raise your dongers” with this kaomoji.



This one represents someone lying on their side in despair or helplessness.


O-(/// ̄皿 ̄)☞ ─═≡☆゜★█▇▆▅▄▃▂_ 

This is Harry Potter.


And here are some more, just for fun!


ᕕ ( ᐛ ) ᕗ




─=≡Σ((( つ•̀ω•́)つ






Can you make out what these are? What’s your favorite kaomoji? Let us know in the comments below!


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