In Japan, it is a traditional practice to use “han,” “hanko,” or “inkan” instead of using personal signatures when signing, accepting, and acknowledging documents. Almost every individual in the country has one. These are stamps which are used for different situations such as serious contractual matters. The usual stamps carried by people are plain black, white, or wooden stamps, though you can also find other colorful ones. In line with modern times, ONdesign, a multifaceted design agency, has recently introduced the original Sengoku Stamps (戦国印) or the “Warring States Stamps” which promises to leave an impression on more than just a piece of paper.
Hanko has been employed by the Japanese people since the beginning of time. It is said to have dated back since 5500 B.C. During those times, people in the Middle East began using personal symbols which they engraved on stones, clays, and shells. The impressions left were considered identifications of the person’s properties. From then on, its use spread to Europe and Asia.
Hanko was used by government officials for special documents. The oldest existing hanko is made of gold which was used to demonstrate political authority in China. During the Edo period, hanko was already commonly used by merchants and farmers. With the coming of the middle ages, brush-stroke signatures enjoyed a bit of popularity. It was employed by samurais, nobles, and aristocrats. The system was modernized in the 1870s which required every citizen to register their hanko. It was then used by people to process special documents. However, people did not use the same hanko for every document. It is said that a person possesses four to five hanko in his lifetime.
Hanko comes in two types: the custom-made one and the ready-made one (inexpensive). Ready-made hanko is used for casual occasions such as those happening at home or in the workplace. Some of these can be found in 100 Yen shops. On the other hand, custom-made hanko is used for important occasions such as purchasing vehicles, opening bank accounts, or obtaining a loan. These are expensive which can cost up to ten thousands of yen but are not frequently used, thus less subject to wear.
There are actually several instances in which an individual is free to choose between using hanko or a signature. But most of the time, when it comes to custom, hanko places a great importance as it is used as a seal of identification.
Hanko and signatures can be interchanged according to law. A hanko can serve as a signature if it is accompanied by a typed or written personal name. On the other hand, a private document is presumed as genuine if it bears the individual’s signature.
However, there are several inherent problems which the hanko system is facing such as a family member who may be using another member’s “jitsuin hanko” (refers to a seal that has been registered and accepted in the office and is used for important contracts and documents) in order to borrow huge sums of money from a financial institution. Another case may be related to elderly persons or those with dementia who can be tricked into signing fraudulent contracts with their hanko.
When it comes to foreigners who are living in Japan, they are not necessarily required to own a hanko. According to the Tokyo Legal Affairs Bureau, they may use their signature but are required to certify it with their home government. When it comes to opening bank accounts, foreigners are allowed to use their signatures as there is also a system which checks signatures to prevent forgery. In case of smaller banks, a hanko is necessary as their employees are not really trained to determine forged signatures. However, if you’re a foreigner who has a long-term business in the country, it is best to secure your own hanko for easier transactions and a smooth process.
To take away the boredom from the usual plain stamps that most people carry, ONdesign has introduced a more personal way of leaving an impression on paper. Through the original Sengoku-in or the “Warring States Stamps,” people will now be able to sign agreements, open bank accounts, and do many things in an impressive way.
The stamps are beautifully wrapped in five different colors (red, brown, blue, green, and black) with four different font types to make it more personal. The handle comes in a sword design which provides an easier grip. About three to five Kanji characters can be carved onto the seal. You can avail of the stamp on the company’s online store for 5,800 yen each (exclusive of tax).
If you feel like giving the stamp as a special souvenir or gift, a gift set is available for 8,200 yen (exclusive of tax). This will include a special carrying case with a covered ink pad which is totally worthy to have.
Whether you’ve chosen a hanko or a signature in processing your papers in Japan, you should still be cautious in using them. Signatures are harder to forge than hanko as they bear individual characteristics. They have certain strokes and angles as well as subtle line changes.
Handling a hanko needs extreme care as you should never lend them to others. You should also leave an impression only when it is necessary. With the digital technology now, precise fabrications of both signatures and hanko can already happen. Hanko imprints can be counterfeited with engraving machines, while signatures can also be reproduced by other machines.
It is also advisable to keep your hanko for bank accounts separate from bankbooks to prevent theft. And also, take good care of your hanko as damaged ones change their imprints. If this happens, you will then be asked by the local government to replace your hanko. As a personal seal, hanko is a necessary item for most adults living in Japan since the beginning of time up to the present. And with the original “Warring States Stamps,” your peers will surely admire your impression on paper.
ONdesign Website *Japanese only