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24 Emoji That Make Sense After You Travel to Japan

What do the Japanese emoji mean?

As a first-timer on a recent adventure with my husband Josh, I was excited to learn as much as I could about its people, culture and history. One of the most hilarious of these experiences? Seeing emoji come to life.

There were always several emoji I didn't quite understand, so it was fun to finally taste, see and touch the Japanese emoji collecting cobwebs on my keyboard.

Here are 24 emoji that made so much more sense to me after visiting Japan.



1. ⛩

The Torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha in southern Kyoto are among Japan's most recognizable monuments. This ancient Shinto shrine dates to 794 A.D. and boasts 10,000 torii gates, which are painted arches donated by patrons. It was a beautiful experience to walk beneath the densely packed row of arches along the trails of the Inari Mountain.

2. 🍡

Dango are such a strangely satisfying rice-based dessert with a doughy feel, round shape and powdered texture. They are the epitome of cute. There are unlimited flavors available to consumers, however, I sampled chocolate mousse, strawberry, vanilla, adzuki red bean. When combined, the pink, white, and green dango are called bocchan dango.

3. 🍥

Narutomaki is an adorable fish cake found in most ramen dishes. It's flavors are a combination of various seafood like shrimp, white fish, crab and lobster. Its whimsical texture and swirling pink icon are a nod to the Naruto whirlpools in the Tokushima Prefecture. These natural forces are recognized as the fourth fastest whirlpool in the world.

4. 👺

Meet Tengu, a beloved deity viewed by Zen Buddhists as a protector of temples and forests. This is a major departure from his depiction in the early 14th century as a menacing, evil demon who set fire to Buddhist temples and wrought chaos on mankind. I first learned of Tengu from the Japanese film, Adrift in Tokyo (Tenten), which is the charming story of a debt collector who offers financial respite to a young college student in exchange for his company in a multi-day walk across Tokyo.

5. 🌊

The Great Wave of Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai is a distinctively Japanese print from the 19th century Edo period. This emoji perfectly captures the fluid, powerful spirit that is woven throughout Japanese culture. Always in motion, yet moving with an undeniable grace. Before leaving for Japan, I watched an awesome anime film on Netflix about his daughter, Miss Hokusai who was also an accomplished artist.

6. 🍜

Slurping warm, tangled ramen on a rainy afternoon was one of my most Tokyo moments. Just about every establishment serves their own version of this comfort dish, which starts with a clear stock broth. Most dishes I ate cost between $8 and $9.

7. 🍢

The charcoal-grilled yakatori in Piss Alley of Shinjuku earned its place among the best street food I've ever had. Yakatori is typically a combination of skewered chicken and green onion, but can also include marinated beef, vegetables and seafood. Omoide Yokocho, also referred to as Memory Lane or Piss Alley, is a narrow cluster of tiny eateries where visitors come for an un-pretensious dining adventure.

Our biggest challenge of eating in Piss Alley was not deciding whether or not to eat there, but finding a place to sit. Most eateries only have 6-7 bar stools.

8. 🍧

Typically relegated to a summertime treat in the U.S., shaved flavored ice is a popular dessert year-round in Japan. I sampled a strawberry ice for $5 outside of the Fushimi Inari gates, which was topped with condensed milk and sliced fruit. The funniest part? The Kirkland labels behind the stand confirmed to me that the ingredients came from Costco.


No day felt complete without an o-nigiri, which is a tightly packed cylindrical or triangular rice ball wrapped in dried seaweed. I ate o-nigiri filled with roe, seaweed, chicken and adzuki beans. They're easily found at 7-11 and Family Mart convenient stores for about 100 Yen each.


One of the most magical sights in Kyoto is seeing the lit paper lanterns along the canal at nighttime. My favorite lanterns were found in the Gion district, which is most notable for its geisha and maiko houses. Often misunderstood by outsiders as prostitutes, these talented women entertain guests through traditional dance and vocal performances, serving refreshments, reciting poetry and engaging in intellectual conversations.

11. 🦊

In Japanese mythology, the fox or kitsune is a symbol of fertility, strong rice harvest and success. They are associated with the Shinto deity, Inari. There are stone sculptures of the fox throughout the trails, usually depicted with the key to the granary in his mouth. Outside of the shrine and in gift shops throughout Japan, I saw kitsune featured in stuffed animals, animated cartoons, candies and snacks.

12. 🐲and 🐉

Dragons have been popular looooong before Daenerys possessed them on Game of Thrones. Dragons first appeared in Japanese art around 680 A.D. and remain an unmistakable symbol of cultural identity. I loved seeing sculptures of them throughout Kyoto.

13. 🍚

Rice. Everywhere. All the time. I happily ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

14. 🍱

Definitely the cutest way to serve lunch. Bento means lunch in Japanese and also refers to these petite boxes that are a popular way to serve a few dishes.

15. 🍘

I can't stop eating these. Senbei is a a rice cracker. Sometimes they are baked with nori (seaweed), but there are hundreds of savory and sweet varieties to choose from. I miss the wasabi crackers I had in Kyoto SO MUCH.

16. 🍦

The most popular soft serve ice cream flavor in Japan? 75% of residents say vanilla, but matcha (green tea) comes in at third place. We sampled matcha soft serve at Tsujiri Tea House in the Gion district, which has been serving customers for 155 years.

17. 🌰

Who knew? During Japan's Jomon period (10,000 B.C. to 200 A.D.), chestnut shells were used for home construction and firewood. Today, they are a popular snack.

18. 🥃

If you've ever seen Lost in Translation, you know that single malt and blended whiskey is a prized Japanese export. Josh sampled a whiskey-based drink called "Purple Town" at The Peak Bar at the Tokyo Park Hyatt where much of Lost in Translation was filmed.

Currently, there are 9 whiskey distilleries in Japan and with the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo around the corner, we heard a rumor from our hostel bartender that houses are hoarding collections to release that summer.

19. 🍶

Kanpai! Sake, a fermented rice wine, is created when the rice's bran layer is removed via polishing , the starch ferments into sugar and converts into alcohol. Many people, including myself, are only familiar with sake in relation to "sake bombs," a drinking game wherein a shot of sake is placed on a set of chopsticks, perilously above a Japanese beer. Then, they bang the table screaming SAKE SAKE SAKE until the sake drops and the screamer chugs their drink. It's basically the most un-Japanese way to drink sake.

20. 🚅

The Shinkansen, or the bullet train, is the fastest train in the world and can travel 200 miles per hour. We made the ~250 mile journey from Tokyo to Kyoto in 2 hours and 49 minutes, joining the ranks of 151 million annual passengers who travel on this high-speed line. It's one of the most expensive trains I've taken at 15000 Yen per passenger each way, which is approximately $300 round-trip.

21. 🗾

Here she is! Japan is an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean that is home to 127 million inhabitants. Most people are surprised to learn that more than 70% of the country consists of mountains, including 200 volcanoes.

22. 🍣

"How was the sushi?" - says everyone when you return from Japan. Sushi is not as prevalent in Japan as foreigners think and typically reserved for fine dining occasions. You can find inexpensive nigiri, however, at one of the many 7-11 convenience stores throughout Japan. It was the first and only time I'll eat pre-packaged roe.


Tokyo Disneyland is one of the cutest places on Earth. The parks are also bonafide destinations for popcorn lovers. There is an entire section of the park map dedicated to finding the nostalgic popcorn carts. The flavors I saw were White Chocolate, Milk Chocolate, Caramel Popcorn, Honey, Soy Sauce and Butter, Black Pepper and Sea Salt and Curry. We sampled the White Chocolate and it was outstanding. Guests can collect character-themed popcorn buckets from each cart and many people use them as adorable purses.

24. 🎎

This was the trickiest emoji to pinpoint, but according to the Emojipedia, these are Japanese dolls that represent royalty.


What other emoji remind you of Japan?

If you have additional thoughts or memories on the emoji above, please reach out to me!

To all those who adventure unabashedly,



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