As soon as that new living room furniture you ordered is delivered to your home or an electrician comes to repair something in your apartment, you are required to sign paperwork before the worker leaves your house. A paper saying that you were present, you witnessed the work performed, are okay with everything, received the package, etc. Similar to America, Japan and most of Asia, also require a signature upon departure of a job done or after business transactions. Only it’s not a pen or pencil kind of signature, its a stamp! The Japanese use stamps (seals) as their signature to sign for something! It’s actually very neat!
The Japanese use seals with the person’s name/organization in kanji on it instead of signatures. More than just rubber stamps, a “hanko-” or personal seal- is a necessary and indispensable item for most Japanese. These seals serve the same role as a signature in the West. These stamps authorize a myriad of transactions such as automobile registration, bank activities, and setting up housing utilities, and more. Hanko stamps can be made from various materials, ranging from ivory, wood, or plastic.
There are several types of hanko that can be used for personal or business use. All of them are the same type of hanko, but instead are used in different types of situations and applications. When using a personal hanko different situations include: confirmation or acknowledgement, making corrections to official documents, formal applications or registration (ex: opening a bank account), and in making of legal agreements (ex: buying a house; this seal must be registered in the local government office). When using a hanko for business use situations include: company stamp used for confirmation or acknowledgement (ex: invoices), managerial name instead of a personal name, and use by a president of a company (ex: setting up a company, contracts).
There are many local shops in Japan that sell pre-made personal stamps, including 100 Yen stores. But if you’re name is uncommon or isn’t pronounced close enough to a pre-made hanko, you should have one personally made for your family. The decent hanko begin at around $30 to $70.
This may sound complicated with the different types and uses of a Japanese hanko, but foreigners do not need to worry so much about them. Actually, foreigners can get away with using their signature when living in Japan; a seal is not required. Sometimes there isn’t enough room for a full signature anyway so, more often than not, just your initials are acceptable. But hey, why not when in Japan, do as the Japanese do??!
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!