The Meaning of East Asian Emojis Explained

So, I’ve been using emojis a lot, both in my private, day-to-day communication and in business content I produce. While exploring the emoji keyboard, I’ve come to learn there’s a fitting pictogram to sum up or emphasize pretty much any tweet or Facebook post. Only recently though have I become interested in the meaning of the East Asian emojis, which is what I’ll discuss in this post, so stay with me for a fun and informative experience.

As you may or may not know, East Asian languages like Chinese, Japanese, or Korean don’t work in the same way as Latin script based Indo-European languages we’re mostly accustomed to do.

Chinese characters, which have been adapted to write several Asian languages, are logograms, meaning they represent a whole word or a phrase, and aren’t equivalent to letters. They number in tens of thousands, although according to various sources, an average Chinese person uses from 2,500 to 8,000 of those symbols.

The Chinese characters and their derivative Japanese kanji seem much more complicated than the Latin alphabet, but remember they also pack more punch per unit.

Why I care about the topic

I’ve been fascinated with the complexity of the Chinese and Japanese scripts for a long time now. It’s always seemed to me as if mastering them required some sort of special talent. On the other hand, I couldn’t understand why would members of any nation or civilization complicate their lives with such an intricate writing system.

Latin alphabet is way simpler in visual terms, has just a couple of dozens of letters, the exact number depending on the language that employs it, and is obviously a perfectly capable and flexible means of communication, growing along the advancing Western civilization.

What’s the meaning of Asian emojis?

Alright, we’re finally getting to the meat of the matter. One other important issue that needs to be mentioned is the very act of translation between languages as distant from each other as English and Chinese.

Translation is rarely an act of substituting one word for another, even with related languages. Thus, there are no precise and singular English equivalents for each of the emojis. Context and culture play as big a role as ever.

With all that being said, here are the Asian emojis and what they mean in English.

?️ “here”, as in “I’m here” or “It’s here”

?️ “service charge button”, usually used in the context of “complimentary / free of charge / on the house service”

?️ “moon” or “month” in Chinese, usually used in the context of a “monthly amount” or “monthly payment” 

?️ “to have” or “to own”

?️ “finger or toe pointing in a certain direction”, also “reserved” 

?️ “gain”, also “good bargain” 

?️ “discount”, “sale”, “cut prices” 

?️ “to lack / have nothing”, “nothing” 

?️ “prohibited”, “restricted”, “forbidden” 

?️ “acceptable”, “possible” 

?️ “request”, “application (form)”, interestingly, it’s also the symbol for the monkey in the Chinese zodiac system

?️ “agreement”, “unite”, “join”, also “passing grade” 

?️ “empty”, “available”, “vacant”

㊗️ “congratulations” 

㊙ “secret” but also used in some unrelated phrases 

️?️ “work”, “open for business” 

?️ “full”, also “satisfied”

Final word

Voila! The mystery behind East Asian emojis has now been unveiled. I hope you learned something new from the post and found the read interesting.

You can now impress your Japanese colleague or post an intriguing caption for an Instagram pic. These days, emojis are rendered by numerous sites and apps, so there’s plenty of opportunity for you to put this newfound knowledge to use.

Forums and instant messaging apps are some of the most popular emoji-friendly platforms. With Chatwee, you can use the built-in set of emojis or open your phone’s emoji keyboard and pick straight from it. Give it a try!

PS. Thank you to Chen Hui Jing, as well as the editors at Japanese Emoji and Emojipedia for providing some of the source material.

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