Kaomoji are faces created using text symbols. They're a bit more complex than the common happy face :) . Like smilies and emoji, kaomoji act as inline enhancements to text that help add depth and convey meaning.
Kaomoji are made up of Eyes, Mouths, Face elements, and Arms / Hands. Items and Movement lines add additonal accents. The Kaomoji Table of Elements deconstructs 83 of the most common and important symbols. Each symbol is accompanied by basic definitions, symbol variations, and examples, to help you better understand kaomoji.
Kaomoji are read horizontally ( • ‿ • ), unlike Western emoticons :). The Kaomoji Table of Elements splits each symbol into one (or more) of these components, using colour. If a symbol can be used as multiple components, the bar at the bottom will indicate this.
Eyes are the main focus of kaomoji. With even just a default keyboard you can express: confusion O_o, joy ^_^, nonplussedness -_-, sorrow u_u, and surprise o_o. Though eyes may not always be the same, you can identify them as the two symbols surrounding the center element — usually a mouth.
Mouths can be the entire focus of a kaomoji, altering an otherwise neutral face. You’ll find them in the center of the kaomoji, surrounded by the eyes.
A mouth can also work together with other components to intensify the expression.
Face elements make your kaomoji unique. It’s common to enclose the eye and mouth components with rounded brackets ( •‿• ) , but you can get creative. When the eyes and mouth are closer to one side of the face, the kaomoji is looking in that direction. Combine face symbols with other components for more fun!
Face elements aren’t always just for customization. You can emphasize expressions by adding details to the face.
Arms and Hands give your kaomoji life through action. You can be more direct and specific by adding these components. When you’re excited, raise your arm in the air ( •‿• )/! Arms/hands can usually be found outside the face. But you can place arms/hands inside a face component (/ •‿• )/ to change the direction your kaomoji is facing.
Items adorn your kaomoji. They can express something very specific to your conversation and are found interacting with other components. You can also use them to accessorize your kaomoji.
Movement lines help emphasize actions. They can be found built into a symbol ヾ or separate ⁾⁾ , able to attach to other components.
Combine components with each other, or even other kaomoji to create scenes!
Let’s test your skills! Type some text to practice reading kaomoji.
Not all devices display kaomoji properly or support all unicode characters. The kaomoji used in this article are tested to work similarly across iOS and Android devices (namely, Samsung, LG, and Oneplus).
Kaomoji components tend to separate in messages due to line breaks. We’ve solved that problem too! For more info on unbreakable kaomoji, check out this post by Xavier!
If you’re on Android and want access to unbreakable kaomoji (and more!) for your messaging, check out our app, Dango!
Katsuno, Hirofumi and Christine R. Yano. “Face to Face: On-Line Subjectivity in Contemporary Japan.” Asian Studies Review, vol. 26, no. 2