I’ve always assumed Americans started emoticons in chatrooms, I have no idea if that is true. It doesn’t really matter though. What I do know for a fact is that Japan has taken the emoticon to a level that Americans have never dreamed.
First of all they read horizontally not vertically. While our smiley face is a simple :) the Japanese use (^_^)
But it is much more than just horizontal versus vertical. Emoticons in Japan are a second language. There are thousands of them and they mean different things.
Feel like crying? (T_T ) or ( ;_;)
If you feel tired? (~o~) Maybe you are sleeping already. (-_-) zzz…
Being cheerful is easy too. p(*＾-＾*)q
Let’s give a kiss. (￣ε￣＠)
Maybe you want to talk about a cat? (=^_^=) How about a bear? (￣(エ)￣)
Some are easy to read. Others are a little difficult until you get some explanation.
(。_°☆＼(- – ) Means that you’ve just been beaten.
(-_-メ)/~~~~~~~~(T_T) Means you just got smacked.
(＾人＾) Means that you are praying.
There are others that (for me) are completely incomprehensible. For example I recently got a email with（*＞∀＜p♡q）and I have no idea what to make of it. Japanese is tough as it is, but there are subtexts that aren’t even using Japanese that make me confused. (- -、)