Japan is worried that its emoji will confuse Westerners during the 2020 Olympics

“I thought you said there was food here?”
“I thought you said there was food here?”
Image: AP Photo/Hiro Komae
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Japan is hosting the next summer Olympics, and it’s already concerned that one of its common cartographic symbols will confuse a lot of visiting tourists.

The onsen symbol, ♨️, meaning hot springs, is used in Japan on signs and in maps, to denote the country’s myriad hot springs. But according to Japanese news outlet NHK (link in Japanese), the government is reconsidering the symbol, amid concerns that ♨️ looks too much like a plate of hot food with rising steam.

The symbol is being reviewed along with roughly 90 other symbols, as the island nation prepares for a massive influx of people who do not speak Japanese. And if Japan does update its symbol, software companies will have roughly four years to update their emoji interpretations of it.

“If Japan did change the onsen symbol everywhere, it would make sense for vendors like Apple and Google to follow suit and update the ♨️ Hot Springs emoji,” Jeremy Burge, founder of the emoji reference site Emojipedia, told Quartz.

It’s unlikely, however, that any updates to the symbol will be adopted by the Unicode Consortium, which creates international standards for such characters on computers and mobile devices. ”It’s an unusual case, as Unicode prefers not to encode symbols as emoji, and this is one reason why,” Burge, who is also a member of the consortium’s subcommittee on emoji, added, suggesting that the underlying Unicode symbol on which the emoji is based wouldn’t change. “The hot springs emoji was included for compatibility with Japanese carrier emoji sets, but otherwise isn’t very popular outside of Japan.”

Japan hasn’t made a final decision yet, but at least it has a few years to let the idea simmer.