What are the Japanese emoticons?

Emoticon sign from AndiH's photostream

In text messages and in email it’s quite common to use emoticons or simlies. We’ve probably all used these to add tone to our text messages.

You suck

The above could be taken the wrong way – if the sender was being playful so they might use:

You suck :D

All the confusion disappears. So now we know what’s meant by emoticons let’s see how the Japanese smilies or emoticons differ. The smiley face above is on it’s side, and is read from left to right.

metal emoticon
Japanese emoticons are read as an entire front facing chunk. (^_^) This is the standard smile emotion. A little different – yet I find the Japanese one’s a little bit more comprehensible. My mobile phone (keitai) over here has a pre-set list of about 100 emoticons to throw into text messages. A number of the later one’s use kanji and there are also some characters used that are generally unavailable in western key sets. Things like stars, swoosh marks and big circles (which means the same as a tick in English i.e. correct).

I’ll only show the one’s here that can easily be displayed using western character sets.


Angry / Frustrated / Irritated. Looks a little like Cartmen from southpark.

Very Happy. Happy with rosy cheeks – maybe a bit embarrassed or relived. Also grateful.

Full nose-to-the-floor bow. Extremely grateful or extremely sorry.

Relieved or nervous. Happiness with a trickle of sweat is what is depicted.

You may see in Japanese photo’s the people hold two fingers up in the “peace” sign. This emoticon usually means good luck.

Upset / Crying


Extremely yay! Thow your hands up in the air.

Bye bye (happy)

Used either as a hug or thumbs up.

Extreme unhappiness. Flowing tears.

Shocked, Expressing “what?”

Extremely shocked / Sometimes extreme disappointed. It’s means to be knocked unconscious or die – the news was just that shocking.

To be very surprised / excited.

Don’t know something / Want to know something.

Tired / Sleepy


Tired and stressed / Exhausted.

Kiss goodbye

Sleepy / Sleeping

Content / Happy

Humble / Feel small

So angry you have a bulging blood vessel.

Feeling down / Depressed / Very humble

There are some cool ones missing – like panda, extremely shocked and super angry.

Anyway try them out – see if you can annoy anyone by using a different emoticon standard. Because these Japanese ones tend to be bigger they can convey a lot more meaning and detail than the western ones. When I am texting Japanese people I tend to use both western and Japanese.

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