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 el 15 Sep 2008 por Ayumi Nakai


Japanese Emoticons: a whole world of expressiveness

Emoticons: Japanese versus Western
Emoticons: Japanese versus Western
Emoticons: Japanese versus Western Emoticons: Japanese versus Western
It is usual practice nowadays to add emoticons to our e-mails and text messages (sms).

The origins of emoticons are not that clear, and there are a few theories out there.

Three Theories

The first theory states that it was Scott Fahlman, at IBM, who invented :-) and :-( back in 1982.

Another one says that circa 1972 emoticons were already commonly used with the PLATO IV computer-based communication system, though they were not exactly the same ones we are using today.

The latest theory talks about ;) emoticon dating back from the 19th Century, when they were still using the old manual typewriters. Way before the first computers even started to come out, they found this emoticon in an old magazine from that time period.

Clarifying Statements of Intent

Scott Fahlman’s proposal was to add emoticons to prevent delivering messages with the wrong intent. He felt that sometimes written words are not enough and might not properly translate feelings.

Emoticons have now spread and became popular all over the globe, mainly thanks to being widely use in the Internet, chats, and instant messaging systems. But there exists a clear difference between western and eastern countries.

West Vs East

In western countries they use 1-byte script operating systems and the emoticons are usually tilted to the left.

However, in eastern countries like Japan they use 2-byte script systems, and therefore a much greater variety of icons is possible.

We don not know for sure when emoticons started to be used in Japan, but they say that it was circa 1986 at the same time as the Online Service Provider ASCII net (Internet predecessor.)

One thing that strikes us a lot about eastern and western emoticons is to se how differently they express feelings. Japanese style emoticons express emotions with the eyes; contrasting with Western style emoticons emoting through the mouth.

Academic and virtual research

A professor at the Social Psychology University in Hokkaido states that this difference could easily be proving differences in expression rules and symbols as well as differences in the perception of feelings amongst Japanese and Western cultures.

According to a research, when sensing other people’s feelings and emotions, western people do it through mouth expressions, while Japanese people sense them through eye gestures.

2ch forumers were possibly key factor in the development and spreading of Japanese emoticons throughout its history. The 2ch Forum (name after the English word 'channel') is a huge underground community covering any topic concerning emoticons.

The legacy of the 2ch community in the creation and popularisation of many Japanese emoticons and standards for its use, is obvious.

Emoticons art has evolved to ASCII art.

You can see some examples of this art at the following community forum

Anyway, the emoticons used in eastern countries have a drawback: they often cannot be viewed in western countries due to different de computer system configuration.
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