If you are staying in Japan long-term, you need to have a personal seal / stamp called Inkan or Hanko, along with your signature for opening a bank account, submitting documents at the city office, signing papers in your office or other needs.
Inkan is the personal identification stamp that you have to use instead of signature, or sometimes, along with your signature in Japan. It is usually a small round seal with your name in it, and is commonly used with the red ink. In case with the Japanese, the second name(family name) is always used in the seal. In case with foreigners, your first name can be used or you can choose any of your names you’d like to make a signature of, and it will be done in Katakana. Romaji may be ok as well, or hiragana or Kanji if your name can be written in them.
Inkans are made out of stone or wood, the name is carved at one end of the rod which will is some 5cm or a little more in length. Commonly used inkans have rounded edges. There are Hankos made out of other materials too, but they can only be used for limited purposes. Hanko often refers to all types of seals, while inkan particularly refers to the personal stamp.
There are two main shapes of Inkans. One is the seal which has to be always dipped in the ink-pad before using it. It has an open mouth at the carved end. While the other one has the name hiding deeper inside the edge of the rod and the seal is filled with ink(same as a self-inking stamp). They are available with and without a cap. You don’t need to always dip it in the ink pad. Once we press it down, we can stamp documents without any complication of using the ink pad We can also refill it once the amount of ink inside reduces. But this type can’t be used in banks, city halls or such other places. It is often used in offices as a personal seal as it is easy to use and it saves time.
If you are buying a car or a house in Japan you need an officially registered inkan. The inkan should be registered in the city office along with your residence card (former alien card) or Special Permanent Residence Certificate. Such inkan is called a Jitsuin. You will be issued a certificate of registration once your inkan is approved by the City hall.
You can make Inkans in any colour and size. Up to 5 characters can be included in the smallest seal, while as the number of characters in your name increases, the radius of the Inkan increases as well.
There are many shops and masters who can make an Inkan according to your needs all over Japan. In the case with the Japanese people, as they are using their second name in an Inkan, it can be purchased from stationary shops, and even from a 100 yen shop at a cheap price. The common Japanese names like Tanaka, Yamada, Suzuki and such have ready made Inkans available for purchase right-away in such shops. But in case with rare or foreign names, you need to order a special-made Inkan at a shop called Hanko-ya. There are many online Hanko shops through which you can order your own inkans. The most famous ones are below:
You can choose any type of seal from a number of types they sell. The price varies according to the colour and type of the seal you are choosing. The most common and cheapest among the colours are black and wooden colours. And the price varies beginning at around 1000 yen. There are very costly items as well, that go over 20,000 yen. If you have a common Japanese name, then you can get one at the lowest price within 1000 yen only. Otherwise, it will be higher and for the main type of seals which can be used in banks and city halls, the cost will start around 3000 yen. The types of pre-inked seals used in offices are sold at a low rate of around 1500 yen. Various shops have different prices. After choosing the type of your inkan, you can order one with your name carved on it, and it will be ready in a week or so.
The covers and cases for your Inkan also come in different shapes. If you opt for the cheapest cover for your Inkan, you can get it at your nearest 100 yen shop. They are available in various colours and shapes, the standard ones are black. If your inkan needs to be dipped in ink every time, you can get a cover with a small ink pad attached within or to it. The covers can be bought from Hanko shops where you get your seal done. There are some Hanko boxes which are really costly, but gorgeous and can be purchased at other, more expensive stores. This can make a great present for everyone outside of Japan!