Demystifying Japanese Mobile Phone Slang: Kaomoji, Emoji and Decomail

It’s hard enough trying to keep up with the latest English terminology and slang surrounding the use of mobes, the terribly ugly term preferred in the UK for cell phones (mobe is short for cell phones), but with Keitai terms. Japanese (that’s Japanese cell phone slang) now appearing in the English language, we old fogeys sometimes find it hard to understand what it is about. This article will try to explain two common phrases and one not so common that seem to be circulating in the SNS generation.


Literally, this is face letters, but it is also known as Japanese emoticons. These don’t just take alphabetic characters, but the entire gamut of symbol characters, Japanese, Greek, Russian kanji characters, dingbats, and whatever else you can find to make varied horizontal faces. The classic cat emoticon = ^. ^ = This is a simple example, but searching the Internet for a term like “kaomoji dictionary” will reveal hundreds, if not thousands, of kaomoji to represent almost every emotion or situation you can imagine. And a good number you couldn’t!

I find it interesting that there are many, many articles on how western emoticons came about like :-), but very little has been done to reveal the history of the Japanese kaomoji. From what I can tell, it was a Korean person in Japan in early 1986 who came up with the smiley face (^ _ ^), and a Japanese nuclear scientist who came up with (~ _ ~) around the same time.


Take a step up the evolutionary ladder and we come to emojis, literally. picture letters. These were first popularized on Japanese mobile phones, displaying a small icon instead of characters in an email. Now almost all phones support a full range of more than a hundred of these icons, and they are an essential feature for the vast majority of users in Japan, since even if people don’t type them, contacts are likely to send emails. complete electronics. from them! They also infect Japanese blogs, and for many people they replace punctuation within their text. Some of the mobile service providers now even animate the glyphs, which brings us to the final term.


Decomail is actually derived from English, which is short for mail decoration. Decorated mail it would be more grammatically correct, but the official full name is indeed decoration. Actually this should be familiar to many readers as it is just a marketing name for HTML based email on mobile phone, allowing simple decoration of the text through features like scrolling banners, inset images , aligned text and color selection. An important manifestation of decomail is the use of what is effectively an animated emoji, by allowing small animations to be inserted into email, and some phones come preloaded with animations numbering in the thousands! However, these images are not limited to just small animated emoji (kaoani (animated faces) are a manifestation and another term to talk about at a later date), but they can also be larger and can even be Flash with simple scripts.

As mentioned at the beginning of this section, decomail is HTML mail, which means that yes, you can send these messages to foreign friends directly from your Japanese cell phone! Sometimes you can receive it too, but since the size and other limitations of a cell phone are quite severe, there are fewer guarantees that it will actually work.

Hope that gives you an idea of ​​how the Japanese bring their mobile emails to life. I have no space to mention that Google’s Gmail can display emoji, nor that Apple and Google are trying to standardize emoji in Unicode, not even 2-channel emoticons, but I hope you now know the definition of kaomoji, emoji, and decomail if you listen to them in conversation.

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