The Hanko Revival

  • The 判子 Hanko, or the Japanese stamp/seal, has always been associated with identification in official matters, for example, marriage certificates, bank mortgage loans, when establishing a company, etc.

    hanko 1

    Author’s photo

    At many Hanko stores, huge discount signs scream ridiculously low prices in bright red fonts. However, the feelings invoked are far from lively. They exude the same wistfulness of old electronics or film camera stores, seemingly a blur of the past, slowly blending into history as technology pushes us into the digitalized 21st century.

    I found myself wondering if people still used Hanko or if it was a necessity in their daily businesses; wouldn’t all forms of identity have been replaced by a card or chip by now? But after doing some online research and consulting with some Japanese people, that was found to not be the case at all! In fact, there was a consensus that the usage of Hanko would still be significantly prevalent in the next couple of decades, and far from being obsolete.

    The Hanko is seen and recognized as an important means of identification since there is no standard ID card in Japan (gasp..!). This notion usually eludes foreigners as we are more often than not able to validate documents and the like via signatures (this is gaining traction thankfully, as increasingly globalized institutions start to accept signatures over Hanko).

    Categories of Hanko

    That said, unbeknownst to most foreigners, there are 3 types of Hanko for the average Japanese citizen: the 実印 Jitsu-in, 銀行印 Ginko-in and 認印 Mitome-in, in decreasing order of importance.

    The Jitsu-in is the most important stamp to Japanese adults and has to be registered at the town council/hall as an official ID. The most expensive of the 3 stamps, it is bespoke and made from quality materials such as marble or even ivory. The Ginko-in is used for banking related matters and like the Jitsu-in, follows standard size and character design guidelines and is also handmade.

    There remains much to be appreciated in the beauty and skill of a made-to-order hanko. Lastly, the mitome-in is an unofficial Hanko and is used for basic acknowledgment purposes such as receiving mail parcels. It is usually wooden, machine-made, and commonly seen in large racks at 100 yen stores.

    On another note, there is a whole other category to Hanko that we could easily be a part of “the personal Hanko”!

    This hanko may be of any shape or design, and is purely for fun and quirks. It may be a novelty of sorts but stamping a Christmas card or postcard with it lends a personalized touch that makes it all the more special and memorable. This also encourages a heartfelt handwritten or snail mail over electronic options :) Personalized hanko may be made for considerably reasonable prices at both brick-and-mortar and online stores. That said, there are too many funky designs that I simply can’t decide!

    Inkan: the mandatory ink stamps every Japanese has