By plenty of measures, 2015 has been a banner year for emojis. A Welsh professor declared them the fastest growing language in the U.K. The New York Times used one in a headline, and a grid of them graced the cover of the New Yorker. Lawyers have cited emojis as evidence in dramatic courtroom trials. President Obama gave emojis a shout-out on the White House lawn, while Russian government officials threatened to ban same-sex emoji couples. To cap it all off, in November the Oxford Dictionaries declared the tears-of-joy emoji the “word” of the year.
It now feels hard to imagine online communication without emojis, even if their explosion in popularity among English speakers only dates to October 2011, when Apple’s iOS 5 update bestowed the little icons upon millions of iPhones. (Gmail launched emoji support several years earlier, as did a number of third-party emoji apps, but neither of these developments paved the way for their mainstream adoption in the way that putting them on the iPhone’s virtual keyboard did.) With so much hype and excitement building in such a short timeframe, it’s fair to ask: Are we experiencing an emoji bubble? And what might life after emojis look like? We can find some possible answers to those questions in the birthplace of the emoji: Japan.
Read more: Slate