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Japan’s emoji creator hoped to end confusion in messages

The tiny smiley faces, hearts, knife-and-fork or clenched fist have become a global language for mobile phone messages, changing the way we communicate.

They are displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and even star in a new Hollywood film.

Now the man who created them when he was a 25 year old employee at Japanese mobile phone carrier NTT DoCoMo has revealed how he came up with them.

 

Pictured, Director Shigetaka Kurita writes a pictograph during an interview at his office in Tokyo. The Japanese creator of the first emoji wanted to add nuance to mobile phone messages and never imagined his 1999 work would become a global phenomenon

ORIGIN OF EMOJI 

In 1998, then 25-year-old Shigetaka Kurita created the first set of 176 emoji as an employee for mobile phone carrier NTT DoCoMo.

Emoji combines the Japanese for ‘picture,’ or ‘e” (pronounced ‘eh’), and ‘letters,’ or ‘moji’ (moh-jee).

In 2010, the 12-by-12-pixel designs were adopted as a global standard by the Unicode Consortiums.

That means any phone or operating system that follows the standard will use the same images, making them a universal language.

The emoji is heir to a tradition of pictographic writing stretching back millennia to Egyptian hieroglyphics and the ideograms used to write Chinese and Japanese.

Despite their ubiquity, they started in 1998 with one man: A 25-year-old employee of mobile phone carrier NTT DoCoMo who created the first set of 176 in one month as he rushed to meet a deadline.

‘I happened to arrive at the idea. If I hadn’t done it, someone else would have,’ said Shigetaka Kurita, who now is a board member at Dwango Co., a Tokyo technology company.

Kurita’s challenge: NTT DoCoMo’s ‘i-mode’ mobile internet service limited messages to 250 characters, which cried out for some kind of shorthand.

A message that said, ‘What are you doing now?’ could be menacing or nosey, but adding a smiley face softened the tone.

‘Digital messaging was just getting started, and so I was thinking about what was needed,’ said Kurita.

Following i-mode’s launch in 1999, that nuance made emoji an immediate hit in Japan, where the demands of courtesy make for a complex art and a tiny mistake can prove costly. 

Emoji combines the Japanese for ‘picture,’ or ‘e” (pronounced ‘eh’), and ‘letters,’ or ‘moji’ (moh-jee).

 'I happened to arrive at the idea. If I hadn't done it, someone else would have,' said Shigetaka Kurita, who now is a board member at Dwango Co., a Tokyo technology company

 ‘I happened to arrive at the idea. If I hadn’t done it, someone else would have,’ said Shigetaka Kurita, who now is a board member at Dwango Co., a Tokyo technology company

 Kurita's challenge: NTT DoCoMo's 'i-mode' mobile internet service limited messages to 250 characters, which cried out for some kind of shorthand. Pictured above, the creator writes a pictograph of a heart

 Kurita’s challenge: NTT DoCoMo’s ‘i-mode’ mobile internet service limited messages to 250 characters, which cried out for some kind of shorthand. Pictured above, the creator writes a pictograph of a heart

Kurita collected common images including public signs, weather symbols, the zodiac and comic book-style pictures such as a light bulb or a ticking bomb.

With simple lines, he made five faces – happy, angry, sad, surprised and perplexed.

The heart and a smiley face are still his favorites.

Some visuals transcend culture. 

A drop of sweat rolling down a cheek means exasperation or anxiety. Others confuse: A camcorder was misread by many as a fish.

The tiny smiley faces, hearts, knife-and-fork or clenched fist have become a global language for mobile phone messages

Despite their ubiquity, they started in 1998 with one man: A 25-year-old employee of mobile phone carrier NTT DoCoMo who created the first set of 176 in one month as he rushed to meet a deadline

The tiny smiley faces, hearts, knife-and-fork or clenched fist have become a global language for mobile phone messages. Despite their ubiquity, they started in 1998 with one man. Emoji have since been adopted by Unicode

‘Japanese tend to excel at making the most of limitations. 

It’s a nation filled with limitations, a small piece of land,’ said Kurita. 

‘We do well at carrying out tasks within a framework, rather than being given a free hand.’

Western players Apple and Google made emoji a global phenomenon.

‘Perhaps because of the popularity of the iPhone, Apple’s art style for its emojis also became extremely influential, to the point that when most people think of emoji imagery, they’re thinking of Apple’s take on it,’ said Jason Snell, a tech journalist and podcaster.

THE 67 NEW EMOJI CANDIDATES FOR 2018 

Coming soon: The 67 new emoji expected to appear on phones next year. The list includes body parts (like a bone, leg, and foot), animals (like a peacock, kangaroo, and hippo) as well as a frowning variation of the famed poo emoji

Coming soon: The 67 new emoji expected to appear on phones next year. The list includes body parts (like a bone, leg, and foot), animals (like a peacock, kangaroo, and hippo) as well as a frowning variation of the famed poo emoji

 Smiling Face With Cape

Serious Face With Eye Mask And Cape

Face With Smiling Eyes And Party Horn And Party Hat

Face With Uneven Eyes And Wavy Mouth

Red Face With Tongue Sticking Out With Bead Of Sweat

Blue Face With Clenched Teeth And Icicles

Frowning Face With Question Marks As Eyes

Grinning Face With Letters Ok As Eyes

Frowning Pile Of Poo

Face With Glistening Eyes

Top Of Head With Red Hair

Top Of Head With Curly Hair

Top Of Head With No Hair

Top Of Head With White Hair

Bone

Leg

Foot

Tooth

Lab Coat

Goggles

Hiking Boot

Womans Flat Shoe

Kangaroo

Llama

Peacock

Hippopotamus

Parrot

Raccoon

Broom

Basket

Roll Of Toilet Paper

 

 Lobster

Mosquito

Microbe

Leafy Green

Mango

Moon Cake

Sliced Bagel

Cupcake

Salt Shaker

Red Envelope

Firecracker

Lacrosse Stick And Ball

Softball

Skateboard

Flying Disc

Jigsaw Puzzle Piece

Test Tube

Petri Dish

Dna

Compass

Abacus

Fire Extinguisher

Toolbox

Brick Wall

Magnet

Luggage

Lotion Bottle

Spool Of Thread

Ball Of Yarn

Safety Pin

Teddy Bear

Bar Of Soap

Sponge

Receipt

Nazar

 

Kurita shrugs that off. The dozen-member team designing i-mode was making something for Japan long before smartphones.

‘Japanese always are too ahead of our time,’ said Kurita, an unpretentious man with a quick smile.

‘I think Galapagos is OK. It’s cool,’ he said, referring to the remote Pacific Island, used in Japan to describe the nation’s insularity. 

‘After all, how can Japan hope to win as a global standard?’

‘And so we go ahead with our Galapagos ways in Japan, and people abroad will see it as wonderfully Japanese.’

Some initially opposed making emoji a Unicode standard, according to Yasuo Kida (pictured), a technology expert who was involved in their adoption

Some initially opposed making emoji a Unicode standard, according to Yasuo Kida (pictured), a technology expert who was involved in their adoption

Kurita’s invention inspired ‘The Emoji Movie,’ an animated film by Sony Pictures about emojis that live inside the world of a smartphone. 

It has yet to be shown in Japan but was modestly popular in the United States.

In 2010, the 12-by-12-pixel designs were adopted as a global standard by the Unicode Consortiums. 

That means any phone or operating system that follows the standard will use the same images, making them a universal language.

Some initially opposed making emoji a Unicode standard, according to Yasuo Kida, a technology expert who was involved in their adoption.

Among the arguments: emoji was mere pictures, too infantile and uniquely Japanese. But Kida said companies that saw Japan as an important market won out.

Yuka Kubo, researcher at the University of Tokyo, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Tokyo. Kubo is working on a book about how young Japanese women pioneer innovations such as selfies and use of emojis as art that are ridiculed but become hits

Yuka Kubo, researcher at the University of Tokyo, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Tokyo. Kubo is working on a book about how young Japanese women pioneer innovations such as selfies and use of emojis as art that are ridiculed but become hits

 Kurita collected common images including public signs, weather symbols, the zodiac and comic book-style pictures such as a light bulb or a ticking bomb. With simple lines, he made five faces - happy, angry, sad, surprised and perplexed

 Kurita collected common images including public signs, weather symbols, the zodiac and comic book-style pictures such as a light bulb or a ticking bomb. With simple lines, he made five faces – happy, angry, sad, surprised and perplexed

What began as primitive digital drawings is growing into an elaborate tool for communication with more choices for pictures and animation, such as Apple’s latest Animoji, Kida said.

Unlike Kurita, Kida finds it sad Japanese lose out on opportunities to reap benefits of their innovations on a global scale due to lack of language skills and international influence.’

Yuka Kubo, a researcher at the University of Tokyo, is working on a book about how young Japanese women pioneer innovations such as selfies and use of emojis as art that are ridiculed but become hits.

‘The young women are expressing their rebellion against the adult world, but in a playful way,’ said Kubo.

APPLE INTRODUCES ‘ANIMOJI’ 

Apple’s new Animoji feature means iPhone X owners will be able to send 3D animated emojis they can control with their face.

According to Apple, the TrueDepth camera captures and analyses over 50 different facial muscle movements.

It will come pre-installed on the iPhone X’s Messenger app, allowing users to record and send Animoji messages that talk with their own voice.

According to Apple, the TrueDepth camera captures and analyses over 50 different facial muscle movements. The animated characters will be able to smile, frown, or take on other facial expressions

 In a demonstration of the new iPhone X, Apple revealed it will come with a feature known as Animoji, which will allow users to communicate as their favourite emojis

The animated characters will be able to smile, frown, or take on other facial expressions.

‘If you were wondering what humanity would do when given access to the most advanced facial recognition technology, here it is,’ joked Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, as he demonstrated the technology using the popular poop emoji.

These days, Kurita works on a popular live video streaming service called Niconico. He believes such services will become more interactive, building online communities, possibly with artificial intelligence.

Kurita doesn’t feel all that involved with emoji today because they have evolved beyond his original set. 

He receives no royalties and is little-known in Japan outside technology circles.

He paid his own air fare to New York last year to see the Museum of Modern Art exhibit, which cited him by name.

Kurita was overcome with emotion.

‘There they were, something I’d been involved with, although I’m neither an artist nor a designer,’ he said. 

‘The museum saw value in the design that had the power to change people’s lifestyles.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk