“my back pain is killing me ngl(‘_ゝ`)”—-discussion on kaomoji and web communication

photo from Adobe Stock

( . .)φ__

When I first came to Europe, friends here often complained that they had difficulty understanding all the “weird things” that came along with my text messages. ┬┴┬┴┤・ω・)ノ

I have used these kaomoji frequently in my daily life since adolescence, and I’d say this habit is related to Japanese cultural influence (Kawaii culture) on the Taiwanese culture. In this post, I want to discuss not only Kaomoji but also its origins of it and its cultural meaning in cyber communication.

The origins of kaomoji ฅ(^◕ᴥ◕^) ฅ

Kaomoji stands for a form of emoticon that is widely used in Japan. And Emoticons refer to the ideogram to convey facial expression. It was first invented by American commercial artist Harvey Ball in 1963, using ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) characters to create a set of code:-) to represent the smiling face expression. Usually, emoticons are read vertically, and the style consists of a few characters; kaomoji are read horizontally, and the style is much more complicated. Another distinctive differences between the two are the focus area of the expression: emoticons mostly focus on the variations of the “mouth” expression, and kaomoji focus on the “eyes”. 

In addition, kaomoji also developed ideograms that represent more than facial expressions, involving a more motive and vivid one than emoticons. Taking (๑˃ᴗ˂) ﻭ as an example (one of the common kaomoji I use), the first character signifies the blush, and the last character denotes a hand. As forヽ(^o^)ρ┳┻┳°σ(^o^)ノ, it means two people are playing ping pong. Creativity is shown in the process of creating kaomoji, and there are no certain conventions.

The influence of Kawaii culture on Web Communication σ(≧ε≦σ) ♡

In Katsuno & Yano’s (2007) research Kaomoji and Expressivity in a Japanese Housewives’ Chat Room, they discussed how the users of the kaomoji shift from primarily male (Otaku, Japanese word for male who adores anime, manga, or technology) to female. According to them, the “kawaii culture” significantly influences the change. Kawaii means cute in Japanese, and “Kawaii” entails a vast number of things, objects, or people that are small, young, innocent, or simply adorable that meet the basic definition of kawaii. The kawaii culture is embodied in the Japanese female lifestyle, which is the main reason the Japanese female applies kaomoji. From a visual perspective, kaomoji have many facial expressions like blushing, laughing but covering the mouth with one hand (for those who lack anime experience, it is quite a typical move when a shy anime girl character does this.), and pretending to be angry but actually feeling shy… The charm of kaomoji to Japanese females is that it can vividly depict their subtle “kawaii” emotional feeling on the internet. 

I have received some feedback about my (massive)application of kaomoji from friends. Anime/manga fans would eagerly ask me where they could download the kaomoji keyboard. On the other hand, some think it’s childish and immature. I don’t blame them because, from my viewpoint, the essence of kawaii culture is capturing the youthful spirit. In my defense, the youth indeed always contains immature, childish, and impulsive elements. (・ω<)☆


( . .)φ__ : the person is writing something.

ฅ(^◕ᴥ◕^) : a cat showing its paws

┬┴┬┴┤・ω・): a person saying hi but his/her body is behind the wall

σ(≧ε≦σ) ♡: a person is running to kiss another

(・ω<)☆: winking


Danet, B. (2001, June 1). Cyberpl@y: Communicating Online (1st ed.). Routledge.

Giannoulis, E., & Wilde, R. L. (2019, July 25). Emoticons, Kaomoji, and Emoji: The Transformation of Communication in the Digital Age (Routledge Research in Language and Communication) (1st ed.). Routledge.

Katsuno, H., & Yano, C.R. (2007). Kaomoji and Expressivity in a Japanese Housewives’ Chat Room.