Kaomoji or Japanese emoticons

One of the things that fascinate me about Japan, is the fact that they mostly have the same stuff we do, but in a different version. It makes you realize how many different ways there are of doing the same thing.

A very good example is the way Japanese people use emoticons. For the more digitally challenged among you, I will start at the beginning: an emoticon is a depiction of a facial expression using punctuation marks, numbers and letters. Emoticons are often used to express emotion while chatting or writing informal e-mails. Western emoticons are faces ‘lying on their side’. For example:

:- )   smiley face        –>  Happy birthday! :- )

:-s   embarrassed       –>  Oops! I’m so sorry :-s

;- )   winking

Japanese emoticons are called ‘kaomoji’, from the words for face (kao) and emoticon (emoji). And as you might have guessed by now, they are nothing like Western emoticons. If you ask me, they are so much cooler! For starters they are not rotated. You ‘read’ them as they are. For example:

^_^    simple smiley face

(^_^;)    embarrassed face (there is a sweat drop to the side of the face)

(^_~)    winking

Aren’t they cute? There is a lot more variation in Japanese emoticons than in Western ones. Some of them are pretty elaborate. Have a look at these:

(*´▽`*) infatuated

(@_@)      feeling dizzy

>^..^<       a cat

(*^▽^*)      very happy face

I also find it interesting to see how some emotional expressions are different in Japanese culture, like for example the drop of sweat to express discomfort or a bow to apologize:

m(_ _)m   person bowing down in apology, the letter m represents a hand

What is your favourite emoticon?

Buying a cell phone in Japan

Buying a cell phone couldn’t be easier in Europe. They practically throw the things at you. But what is normal in Europe, often isn’t in Japan. In Japan, buying a cell phone and registering for a phone number is serious business. It’s best to set aside the better part of a day to do it. And if you’re new in Japan, I recommend getting some help from a local.

To buy our Japanese phones, we went to a huge electronics store in Toyota City called Eiden. It’s two floors of electronica heaven – or hell, depending on how well you respond to an overdose of visual and auditory stimuli.

Eiden electronics store in Toyota City

Eiden electronics store in Toyota City

First things first: picking out a phone. Typical Japanese cell phones are a lot bigger than European ones (my Japanese phone is 11 cm by 5 cm). Although these days, many people in Japan have a smart phone, which pretty much looks the same all over the world.

Japanese cell pones in Toyota City

Japanese cell phones

Picking out a phone is it the fun part. After that, the paper work begins. There is an endless pile of forms to complete, documents to register and questions to answer. All the registration is done by means of carbon paper, not computerized forms. Not quite what I had expected from a high-tech nation like Japan.

Fortunately the famous Japanese customer care makes it all bearable. We are helped by the most ‘kawaii’ (cute) and bubbly salesperson ever.

Sales person in Eiden electronics store, Japan

Cute sales person

While we are waiting for our documents to be checked (which takes more than an hour), we are free to wander around the store or even go grab a bite to eat somewhere. They will contact us when everything’s ready. As if that’s not enough in terms of customer care, the store features a rest space where the weary shopper can repose during their shopping spree.

Rest space in Eiden electronics store, Japan

Rest space for weary shoppers in Eiden electronics store

After having spent many an hour in that store, we finally get our phones. Now we’re ready to start having a social life in Japan. FYI: phones in Japan come with their very own e-mail address. So it’s even possible to send e-mails to phones that don’t connect to the internet. Very convenient!

eiden  toyota city

Eiden Toyota City, or at least how it's supposed to look like according to Eiden website (click on the photo to be redirected).