Emojis & Emoticons and Their Interpretation in Japanese Culture

Over the last couple weeks, my CRS 400 class concluded our studies by spending our time researching, writing, and discovering intercultural differences through personal projects focused on examining foreign cultures and their usage of social media. Given the background of the project and my passion for technology, I chose to focus on Emojis and their usage by Asian cultures, but Japanese culture in specific. In fact, my research question was the following:

“Are emojis used as frequently on social media across different cultures? Specifically, in Asian countries, how are emojis interpreted differently than in other countries such as the United States?

My inspiration for this project largely came as a result of my background in software engineering and a love for writing code. Over the past summer, I worked on an engineering team for a company called newBrandAnalytics, who were building software that could process, analyze, and derive sentiment from customer reviews on websites like Yelp, Twitter, and Facebook. In the world of computer science, this is referred to as NLP (Natural Language Processing), which basically consists of building linguistic models that teach computers to read and interpret emotions from text, just like human beings. One of the conundrums our engineering team encountered was how to account for Emojis, given their rise in social media usage across the web. At the time I was interning there, a fellow software engineer showed me a fascinating site, emojitracker.com, which analyzes Twitter feeds across the world, showing viewers real-time usage of Emojis and their frequency. If you have a chance to visit the site, you’ll see it’s not only impressive, but crazy to think Emojis are so widely used nowadays.

After seeing this website, I became intrigued by the ideas of Emojis—not just their usage, but also their interpretation across social media, especially by foreign cultures. As someone who lives in a country (The United States) where emotions and loud-talking are common in everyday jargon and interaction, I was interested to see if the same was true in countries like Japan, who are generally more reserved and less outspoken. I realized that Emojis would serve as the perfect vehicle for this experiment, because they were an unanimous icon used across the world, especially on sites like Twitter, which would later be my research tool.

Below you will find a presentation of my research, including methodology, background, and data/results, along with an analysis of this data. Overall, I learned a lot about Japanese emotion and their usage of Emojis as a way to express it. Although their usage of Emojis may be different than American usage, Emojis are nevertheless a growing niche that helps people across the world share sentiment via social media.



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