Between 1998 and 1999, while the rest of the tech world was preoccupied with the Millennium bug, a 27-year-old engineer at Japanese phone company, NTT Docomo, was working on a project that would define the next era of digital communication. Although he didn’t know it yet.
From his office in the Gifu prefecture, Shigetaka Kurita, was trying to create a way for customers to communicate through icons. For years his employer had been successful at selling pagers to Japan’s teenagers, and its decision to add a heart symbol to one device had proved popular. But as competitors quickly created similar features Kurita knew Docomo required more.
The result was a set of 176 icons in 12×12 pixels, which Kurita named emoji, a combination of two Japanese words: “e” for picture and “moji” for character. Drawing from manga and Chinese characters, as well as international bathroom signs, he covered everything