Japan-Specific Emoji: Food


Do you remember the first time you used a phone with an emoji keyboard?

I do. It was kind of overwhelming. I scrolled and scrolled, and wondered what all these characters could possibly be for.

Because emoji originated in Japan, some of them are quite specific to Japanese culture.

Some are obvious - but others might not mean what you think!

せんべい Rice Cracker



(Emoji images from emoji.ichinoku.com)

"What's that brown circle with the square on it?"

せんべい senbei or sembei) are crunchy rice crackers. Usually savoury, they're made from Japan's staple food - rice.

This one in the emoji picture is partly wrapped in a sheet of dried のり (nori) seaweed. Yum!

弁当 Bento Box


A 弁当 bentō (bentou!) is a boxed lunch containing rice, with fish or meat, and usually picked vegetables.

Look closely - this bentō has sushi in it too!


団子 Dango

Dango are Japanese sweets made from sticky rice and sugar. They're chewy and squishy. I'm a big fan!

They're served on a stick to make it easier to eat.

These coloured ones can also be called 三色 sanshoku ("three-coloured") dango, or 花見 hanami ("flower-viewing") dango.

エビフライ Fried Prawn


エビフライ (ebi-furai) or "fried prawn" is a specialty food of Nagoya, where I lived from 2011-2014.

I can't eat prawns though, so it's not my favourite food. You can have mine.

マンガ肉 Manga Meat


マンガ肉 (manga niku) is meat on the bone stylised like the cartoon meat you see in anime and manga.

Also known as あの肉 (ano niku) "that meat".

In a glorious case of life imitating art, you can actually get manga niku some places. We had it in the Capcom bar in Shinjuku, Tokyo last year:


おでん Oden

A classic winter comfort food, oden is a hot-pot made by simmering various ingredients in dashi fish broth.

Some of the ingredients are skewered - again, to make them easier to eat!

The triangle on the top is こんにゃく (konnyaku), a gelatinous speckled grey food that tastes better than it looks.

Next time you're scrolling through your emoji, see if there are any you always skip past.

Or are there any that make you go "what on earth is that one...?"

More Ways of Counting in Japanese with "Ippon Demo Ninjin"


My student shared the funny song "Ippon Demo Ninjin" with us recently.

It's pretty pun-tastic, and very catchy.

It's also a good way to learn and practice some more counters (those words we stick on the end of numbers in Japanese, depending on what's being counted).


(Part 1)
1! いっぽん  でも  にんじん     Ichi! Ippon demo ninjin
2! にそく  でも  サンダル     Ni! Nisoku demo sandaru
3! さんそう  でも  ヨット     San! Sansou demo yotto
4!  よつぶ  でも  ごましお     Yon! Yotsubu demo gomashio
5! ごだい  でも  ロケット    Go! Godai demo roketto
6! ろくわ  でも  しちめんちょう    Roku! Rokuwa demo shichimencho
7! しちひき  でも  はち     Shichi! Shichihiki demo hachi
8! はっとう  でも  くじら     Hachi! Hattou demo kujira
9! きゅうはい  でも  ジュース     Kyuu! Kyuuhai demo juusu
10! じゅっこ  でも  いちご     Juu! Jukko demo ichigo

いちご、 にんじん、 サンダル、 ヨット、 ごましお、 ロケット、しちめんちょう 、はち、くじら、ジュース
Ichigo, ninjin, sandaru, yotto, gomashio, roketto, shichimencho, hachi, kujira, juusu
Strawberry, carrot, sandal, yacht, sesame and salt, rocket, turkey, bee, whale, juice

(Dance break)

(Repeat Part 1)

いっぽん、 にそく、 さんそう、 よつぶ、 ごだい、ろくわ、しちひき、はっとう、きゅうはい、 じゅっこ!
Ippon, nisoku, sansou, yotsubu, godai, rokuwa, shikihiki, hattou, kyuuhai, jukko!
One long thin thing, two shoes, three boats, four small round things, five vehicles, six birds, seven small animals, eight large animals, nine cups, ten small things!

The joke here is that all the numbers are "wrong"...

The beginning of ninjin (carrot) sounds like "ni" (two) but there's only one carrot.

And the beginning of sandaru (sandles) sounds like "san" (three) but...there are only two sandals!

We could translate いっぽん  でも  にんじん  Ippon demo ninjin, therefore, as:
"It's only one, but it's ninjin."
or
"Even if there's only one, a carrot is ninjin."
(Trust me, it sounds better in Japanese.)

Anyway, listen again and try and sing along.

I haven't translated the whole thing for you, just bits. See if you can work the rest of it out!

What's The Difference Between Tabemono and Ryouri?


I love a good question. Here's one I got this week:

"Why does this homework say the Japanese word for food is ryouri? I thought you said the word for food was tabemono?"

Consider the following:

Potatoes are tabemono, but they're not ryouri.

A plate of hot chips is tabemono AND ryouri.

Does that give you a clue?



食べ物 tabemono


Tabemono is food in quite a general sense.

The unprepared ingredients in your fridge are tabemono. The food on your plate is also tabemono.

For example:
好きな食べ物は?
Suki-na tabemono wa?
What's your favourite food?

体に良い食べ物ベスト10!
Karada ni ii tabemono besuto 10!
Top ten foods that are good for you!

料理 ryouri


Ryouri, on the other hand, is cooking or cuisine. Specifically, it's food which has been cooked or prepared.

The food on your plate is ryouri, but the ingredients in your fridge are not ryouri.

その店の料理は美味しかったです。
Sono mise no ryouri wa oishikatta desu.
The food at that restaurant was great. 


Ryouri can be the cuisine of a whole country:

フランス料理が大好きです。
Furansu ryouri ga daisuki desu.
I love French food.

イギリス料理はまずいと言われます。
Igirisu ryouri wa mazui to iwaremasu.
It's said that British food is disgusting.

料理をする ryouri o suru means "to cook", too:

ロバートさんはあまり料理をしません。
Robaato san wa amari ryouri o shimasen.
Robert doesn't cook very often. 

Question time! Can you answer these questions?


1. 好きな食べ物は何ですか。
 (すきな たべものは なんですか。)

2. よく料理をしますか。何を作りますか。
 (よく りょうりを しますか。なにを つくりますか。)

Or, you could hop on over to Twitter and ask me a question. I do love a good question 😊