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I am interested in Japanese culture and the symbolism used in Japan, specifically I'd like to know what the △ triangle, ◯ circle, ╳ cross and ◻ square mean to a Japanese person.

How are those shapes interpreted and do they vary depending on there being filled or not?

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4 Answers 4

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  • ○ まる
    • OK; correct; yes; supported; available (like ; note that the check mark usually means "wrong" in Japanese examinations)
    • masked/censored character (like * in English used to mask characters in certain words; see this)
    • rival horse; second likely to win (horse race; favorite horse is marked with )
    • win; victory; 白星 (when used as opposed to 黒星 = = lose)
  • × ばつ、ぺけ、ばってん
    • NG; wrong; no; unsupported; unavailable
    • masked/censored character (mainly for sexual reasons; cf: ちょめちょめ)
    • multiplication (math)
    • lose (game)
    • dead; extinct; obsolete (word, species, person; like in English)
    • used to denote romantic relationships, especially in yaoi fandom (like "slash" / in English)
    • finished (calendar, event)
  • △ さんかく
    • partially OK; partially supported; nearly sold out; between ○ and ×; questionable
    • second move; 後手 (in shogi, when used as opposed to = first move; sometimes inverted ())
    • negative value/earnings (finance, when positive values are marked with nothing)
    • money gain; increase (stock market, when used as opposed to = loss)
    • dark horse; third likely to win (horse race)
  • □ しかく
    • unavailable character; glyph missing (see: 豆腐 and geta symbol)
    • full-width space (as opposed to the dot used to denote half-width (ascii) spaces)

And these symbols can be used as the casual placeholder for other arbitrary words/characters. (See this)

As you can see, depending on the context, filled symbols often mean the opposite things to the unfilled ones.

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  • × is used before the name of a dead person? Isn't that kind of harsh?
    – Avery
    Aug 23, 2016 at 2:30
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    @Avery Such use is mostly limited to (semi-)academic contexts, I think. For both historical and technical reasons, the dagger sign has never been popular nor widely available in Japanese documents.
    – naruto
    Aug 25, 2016 at 4:06
  • × × can also be read as チョメチョメ: zokugo-dict.com/17ti/cyomecyome.htm Jun 1, 2018 at 7:48
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    +1. I just want to add (for the asker) that Japanese also use ◎ to indicate "best", "excellent", etc. or anything better than 〇. Japanese pretty much use 〇 × and △ in everyday work (I'm in the engineering consulting field) but not □ or ◎. Also, kids in kindergarten and grade school get a 花丸 (hana maru=flower circle) but not ◎ from their teachers if they get a perfect score in a test, if the teacher thinks their homework is excellent, and so on.
    – DXV
    Feb 5, 2020 at 8:21
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    anecdote: Playstation has the ⭕️❌🔳△ buttons. Sony generally requires games default to ⭕️ = select in Japan and ❌ = select outside Japan. IIRC it's now settable in the system settings where as before (PS1-PS3) it was only based on region. This means games need to display those characters dynamically like if the game says "Press ? to continue" that ? has to be updated at runtime with the correct character for the region/setting.
    – gman
    Mar 31, 2021 at 4:30
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◯ (まる) symbolizes “O.K., Right," Perfect," while X(ばつ)symbolizes "No," "Incorrect," and "Wrong."

The test method that requires the testees to answers in Yes (○) / No (X) format in school examinations and the written examination of driver’s license is called ”まるばつ式テスト.”

I don’t know if ◻ square and △triangle have any specific implications as a sign like ◯ and X have, except the cases of the signs being often used for the index to be placed ahead of the bullet-type sentences, like:

■Fewer people are on welfare

■But the government didn't save money

■Most families in poverty don't receive welfare.

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Would just like to add that ◯ can also be used as a placeholder. For example there's a TV show called 人志松本の◯◯な話. The equivalent in English would be "Matsumoto Hitoshi's _____ story".

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△ さんかく over internet could mean such thing as san is cool/handsome people write a name and put the △ in the end bcs sankaku could be . san ga kakkee (“_-san is cool/handsome”)with a little imagination so Name△ instead of writing it all

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