re: What do all these emoji faces mean? (Posted on 7/18/10 at 11:30 am to alange)
Emoji (絵文字?) is the Japanese term for the picture characters or emoticons used in Japanese wireless messages and webpages. Originally meaning pictograph, the word literally means e "picture" + moji "letter". The characters are used much like emoticons elsewhere, but a wider range is provided, and the icons are standardized and built into the handsets. Some emoji are very specific to Japanese culture, such as a bowing (apologizing) businessman, a face wearing a face mask or a group of emoji representing popular foods (ramen noodles, dango, onigiri, Japanese curry, sushi). The three main Japanese operators, NTT DoCoMo, au and SoftBank Mobile (formerly Vodafone), have each defined their own variants of emoji.
Emoji appearing on a Japanese iPhone (Apple Website)
Although typically only available in Japan, the characters and code required to use emoji are often, due to the nature of software development, present in many phones' software. As a result, some phones, such as the Apple iPhone, allow access to the symbols out-with use on Japanese carriers. Emoji have also started appearing in emailing services such as Gmail (accessed via Google Labs).