Shigetaka Kurita

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Shigetaka Kurita
BornMay 9, 1972
Known forEmoji designer
Notable workNTT DoCoMo emoji set

Shigetaka Kurita (栗田穣崇) (born May 9, 1972, Gifu Prefecture, Japan) is a Japanese interface designer and often cited for his early work with emoji sets.[1][2][3][4] Many refer to him as the creator of the emoji, a claim clarified in recent years.[5][6] He was part of the team that created one of the first emojis used solely for communication, a heart-shaped pictogram that appeared on an NTT DoCoMo pager aimed at teenagers. It went onto become the Red Heart emoji.

This development and the aftermath of its use, led Kurita to design a set of 176 colored emojis. Many of the general-use emojis used today by Unicode can be traced back to Kurita's set. He now works for Dwango Co. Ltd., a Japanese games company owned by Kadokawa Dwango Corporation. The NTT DoCoMo emoji set he created is now on display in Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.

Creation of Emoji sets[edit]

While emojis existed prior to the 1990s, they were often defined as pictograms in Asia. The term emoji is of Japanese origin, with the term only adopted in the west from 2010 onwards. Japan itself also struggled to define the emoji for a number of years. It wasn't until telecom companies began experimenting with the use of graphic images or pictograms in messaging facilities that the emoji concept became a working idea.

One of the first telecoms companies that trialed the concept of using pictograms in messaging facilities was NTT DoCoMo. In the 1990s, NTT DoCoMo released a pager that was aimed at teenagers. The pager was the first of its kind to include the option to send a pictogram as part of the text. The pager only had a single heart-shape pictogram as its option. This is thought to be Kurita's first exposure to the use of digital symbols in text form. The pager received rave reviews in Asia which led to other companies in the region to consider using pictograms in the list of text characters. NTT DoCoMo then released another pager aimed at businesspeople, but this time dropped the heart pictogram from the characters on the pager. Following its release, there was an outcry by users that the pictogram was no longer available and many customers switched to other providers that had now included a heart pictogram in their markup. This led NTT DoCoMo to reverse their decision and include the heart pictogram.[7]

In interviews, Kurita said this experience left him and others at NTT DoCoMo knowing that symbols had to be part of future texting services.[8] For NTT DoCoMo's upcoming mobile system i-mode, it was decided that Kurita should design a set of pictograms, which could be used as characters on the new operating system.

NTT DoCoMo emoji set[edit]

Kurita started designing an emoji set that could be used alongside the NTT DoCoMo heart emoji. He designed a set of 176 pictograms using a grid of 12x12 pixels that eventually started a global trend in the use of pictograms to communicate ideas through text messages.[5] The set of pictograms became known as the first emoji set, as it is the first time the word had been recorded is thought to be used for pictograms. Emoji simply means “pictograph” or “icon” in Japanese.[7]

To make the emoji set, Kurita got inspiration from Japanese manga where characters are often drawn with symbolic representations called manpu (such as a water drop on a face representing nervousness or confusion), as well as from weather pictograms,[9][10] Chinese characters and street signs.[11]

One of the most notable changes to other telecom companies that had started experimenting with emojis was the use and diversity of color in the set. Aside from basic numbers and shapes, the majority of the 176 emoji set contained color. The famous DTT DoCoMo heart remained as part of the set and was red. General-use emojis, such as sports, actions and weather, can easily be traced back to Kurita's emoji set. The yellow-faced emojis commonly used today evolved from other emoticon sets and cannot be traced back to Kurita's work.[12]

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) recently has added the original set of emoji to its collection and is currently on display at the museum in New York City.[13][14]


  1. ^ Kageyama, Yuri (2017-09-21). "Shigetaka Kurita: The man who invented the emoji". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2018-06-17.
  2. ^ Prisco, Jacopo (2018-05-23). "Shigetaka Kurita: The man who invented emoji". CNN Style. Retrieved 2018-06-17.
  3. ^ Gallardo, Agustín (2018-06-17). "Shigetaka Kurita: creó los emojis y nunca cobró los derechos de autor" [Shigetaka Kurita: created emojis and never collected the copyright]. Perfil (in Spanish). Retrieved 2018-06-17.
  4. ^ Negishi, Mayumi (2014-03-26). "Meet Shigetaka Kurita, the Father of Emoji". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2018-06-17.
  5. ^ a b Burge, Jeremy (2019-03-08). "Correcting the Record on the First Emoji Set". Emojipedia.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ McCulloch, Gretchen (2019-07-23). Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-7352-1095-0.
  7. ^ a b "The Origin Of The Word 'Emoji'". Science Friday.
  8. ^ McCurry, Justin (October 27, 2016). "The inventor of emoji on his famous creations – and his all-time favorite". The Guardian.
  9. ^ Jacopo Prisco (23 May 2018). "Shigetaka Kurita: The man who invented emoji". CNN. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  10. ^ Nakano, Mamiko. "Why and how I created emoji: Interview with Shigetaka Kurita". Ignition. Translated by Mitsuyo Inaba Lee. Archived from the original on June 10, 2016. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  11. ^ Negishi, Mayumi (2014-03-26). "Meet Shigetaka Kurita, the Father of Emoji". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 2018-06-12. Retrieved 2021-11-15.
  12. ^ McCurry, Justin (2016-10-27). "The inventor of emoji on his famous creations – and his all-time favorite". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-06-17.
  13. ^ Sekiguchi, Sei (2016-10-27). "絵文字、ニューヨークMoMAのコレクションに" [Emoji in the collection of New York MoMA]. ケータイ Watch (in Japanese). Retrieved 2018-06-17.
  14. ^ Debczak, Michele (2018-05-01). "The Original Emojis From 1999 Are Getting Their Own Coffee Table Book". Mental Floss. Retrieved 2018-06-17.