In 2011, Apple became the first big tech company in the West to visibly embrace emoji. The detailed, glossy symbols that appeared that year on the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard were a far cry from Shigetaka Kurita’s lo-fi efforts and they went on to become the de facto standard for modern emoji design. But though Apple holds the emoji 👑, it was Gmail, Google’s email service, that had first dragged emoji out of Japan and onto the world stage. And drag it had to, for emoji did not come quietly.
In the mid-2000s, as Google sought to expand its reach in Asia, it prepared to make Gmail, its email service, available to users in Japan. Emoji were as unfamiliar outside their native country as they were beloved inside it,* but Takeshi Kishimoto, product manager for Google in Japan, knew that a successful launch would depend on their inclusion. His bosses agreed in principle but balked at one symbol in particular: Takeshi was adamant that Gmail must include a poo emoji.2 Promptly, the 💩 hit the fan.