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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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  • ○ 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)
    • 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 ×
    • 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.

  • × is used before the name of a dead person? Isn't that kind of harsh? – Avery Aug 23 '16 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 '16 at 4:06
  • × × can also be read as チョメチョメ: zokugo-dict.com/17ti/cyomecyome.htm – Igor Skochinsky Jun 1 '18 at 7:48
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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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