It’s very easy to fall in love with Japanese text smilies, or Japanese emoticons as they are otherwise known. Rather than the usual horizontal Western equivalents :-) :-( ;o) and all the others, Japanese text smileys do not require a twist of the head to interpret them. This article will introduce some of my favorites that I regularly use when communicating.
(^_^) The classic smiley. Express your happiness or contentedness with this, the basic Japanese emoticon. This is one I use in well over half my emails, and I have in fact have it bound to a macro shortcut key for instant smiley insertion into my text. This emoticon also works without a mouth (^^) – many other of these smiley also have mouthless variants which might seem odd to our Western sensibilities, but remember that the figurehead of Japanese cuteness, Hello Kitty, is also mouthless, a design that is explained as allowing the owner to project more of their own feelings onto her. I wonder if this reasoning can be extended to mouthless smiley, as the added ambiguity fits in with the general Japanese communication culture of indirectness.
(^^;) and (#^.^#) When I want to indicate shyness or embarrassment this pair of smileys are invaluable. First off (^^;) indicates just mild discomfort, with the semicolon indicating a bead of sweat forming and running down one’s forehead. The second (#^.^#) is for outright embarrassment or shyness. Here the convention in Japanese text smileys is that the pound mark (or hash mark, or octothorpe) shows cheeks blushing red perhaps after making some major faux pas.
orz, OTL If you squint a bit, you can see a stick man on his hands and knees, head touching the floor. This represents someone collapsing in failure or despair, a Japanese emoticon I’ve never had the occasion to use! (^^;) This is most often used to laugh off failures, perhaps with the sense of banging one’s head on the floor. Apparently in China the same text smiley is used to mark respect, bowing down at someone’s feet, and in the West as a synonym for ROFL or LOL (Rolling On the Floor Laughing or Laughing Out Loud).
(^v^) Let’s get a bit more cheery again, with this laughing Japanese text smiley. Also meet its cousin, the even more gleeful v(^v^)v with hands making the V-sign. Ahh, the V-sign; point a camera at any female under about 35 years old and her hands will unconsciously form these V signs! So, wherever you might want to use a ROFL or LOL, try this Japanese emoticon instead.
=(^.^)= This is perhaps getting just a bit too cute with emoticons, but I do have a soft spot for this happy kitten face. It may be used (or abused, depending on your point of view!) to express childish joy or to highlight cuteness.
(ToT) Now to the other end of the spectrum, crying. Here you can see the capital letter T represents tears running down from the eyes, and the small letter o the wailing mouth. This Japanese text smiley has another miserable relative (T_T) which represents perhaps more silent tears.
Go on, try Japanese text smilies in your communications too and liven up not just your emails, but also instant messages, SMSes, blog entries, and Tweets with these cute and fun Japanese emoticons. You’re never too old to not act your age!