From a humble smiley face with a box mouth and inverted “V’s” for eyes, crude weather symbols, and a rudimentary heart — emoji have now exploded into the world’s fastest-growing language.






There are now about 1,800 emoji characters — and counting. They cover everything from emotions and food to professions, are racially diverse and have become an integral part of the smartphone age.


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Shigetaka Kurita, the man who created these characters, is still surprised by the success of his idea, but says he was meeting an obvious need.Kurita was also experimenting with how to make information, such as weather forecasts, more accessible on the small screens of emerging cellphones, deciding visual aids would help. The sun and umbrella symbols — both open and closed — were among his earliest creations.The digital hieroglyphics are regarded as so significant that New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which is home to works by Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso, is exhibiting the original 176 designs.







“It wasn’t only Japanese who felt inconvenienced when they were exchanging text messages. We were all feeling the same thing,” he tells AFP.

Kurita was working at major telecom NTT Docomo in 1999 when he sketched out one of the first emoji, a clunky looking thing barely recognisable as the precursor to today’s yellow smiley face.




For inspiration, Kurita says he tapped Japan’s popular manga comics and the country’s complicated writing system that uses two sets of phonetic letters mixed with Chinese characters, known as kanji.

New visual language

Keenly aware of how text messages could be misconstrued, he wanted to create visual accompaniments to help articulate tone.

“With a heart, the message can’t be negative whatever the text says,” Kurita explains, describing his motivation to include the sign.

This month Kurita is going to New York to visit the exhibition honouring his creation, whose name is a combination of the Japanese words for pictures and letters.



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“I made poo. It’s childish but I thought it’s good to have something that makes people chuckle,” he said.

“The company turned it down for the sake of its corporate image.”



Despite being popular in Japan around the turn of the century, it took another decade for emoji to really take off globally.Today, a smiley-faced poop is one of the world’s most popular emoji, though according to the emojitracker website, a face with tears of joy is the symbol that is used the most.



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