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Hanko: The Indispensable Name Seal in Japan

By Yae Feb 19, 2018

This post is also available in: Russian



If you’re a foreigner who has lived in Japan, many of you may have already experienced how to use name seals, what we call “Hanko” or “Inkan” in Japanese, when you need to do paperwork.
Have you ever wondered, “Why do Japanese people need Hanko each time they need to do paperwork?” or “What for?”
For those who are not familiar with the usage of Hanko, this procedure may freak you out and you might say, “It’s such a hassle to use Hanko all the time!”

Before you panic, read this article to know the background and reason why Japanese people are using Hanko. Maybe you’ll understand the importance of Hanko by the time you finish reading this article.

Let’s figure it out together!

 When did Japanese People Start Using Hanko?


People say it was the time of ancient Mesopotamia that people first started using Hanko.
It was around 5,000BC when people first started using Hanko, and by the time of 3,000BC, people were using Hanko to indicate their power and possession.
Japanese people had started to use Hanko more commonly in the Edo period. Traders and even samurai were using Hanko on a daily basis.
Japanese people made official registered seal lists as notarial documents in this period. Also, people started to call the name seal “Hanko” in the Edo period.

By the Meiji period, Hanko meant so much to Japanese people that they started to use Hanko at the bank or post office, and people permitted using Hanko as an officially registered seal for proclaiming organizations on October 1st in 1873.

What Kind of Types are There for Hanko?


Surprisingly, Japanese people are not using just one Hanko, but they use several different Hanko depending on the situation.
There are 5 types of Hanko, such as:


1. Officially Registered Seal

Japanese people use officially registered seals in what we call “Jitsu-in” for resident registration.

Jitsu-in is a very important name seal that people generally use it for things such as real estate transactions or dealing with important contracts.
People normally make their own name seal with a unique design and rich carving type, preventing any fraud since every Hanko only uses one’s last name, so if other people have the same last name, like the popular names “Sato” or “Yamada”, it’s easy to trick someone.

2. Bank seal

Japanese people use bank seals in what we call “Ginko-in” for opening their own accounts or anything related to the procedures for checks and bills.

This Ginko-in is very important and Japanese people use it for financial facilities, so it’s better to keep it in a safe place at home.

3. Personal seal

Japanese people use personal seals in what we call “Mitome-in” for affixing a seal on delivery notes, like Amazon or FedEx.

Japanese people use this Hanko in a more casual way compared to officially registered seals or bank seals.
It’s also acceptable to sign their signatures on delivery notes, but they can save time by using a Mitome-in since they just press it on the papers and that’s it.

4. Self-inking rubber stamp

Japanese people use self-inking rubber stamps in what we call “Shachihata” for the same usage as a personal seal.

The reason why this seal name doesn’t have “in” at the end like the other name seals do, is because the name Shachihata comes from the company that originally created this stamp called Shachihata Inc.

If the ink runs out, you need to refill it by yourself, but this stamp doesn’t need red ink-pads like other name seals.
The advantage of using this Shachihata is that it is very convenient, and people even can get it from a 100yen shop. Cheap and reasonable, but people can’t use this stamp as an officially registered seal or bank seal. Only available for usage as a casual approval stamp.

5. Ready-made seal

Japanese people use ready-made seals in what we call “Sanmonban” for the same usage as a self-inking rubber stamp, but this seal is made from cheap plastic.

Sanmonban means “Cheap with mass production” in other words in Japanese, and you can buy it at 100yen shops.
Since it’s mass-produced and everyone can have it for a cheap price, you must be careful to not use them easily for official things such as for officially registered seals or bank seals.
People can register easily for these important contracts, but using one of these would increase the chance of fraud due to someone using the same name seal, pretending to be you.

Foreigners Can Also Make Their Own Name Seal

Foreigners who live in Japan can also make their own name seal, with the following conditions:

1. All foreigners can make their own name seal, but only as a private seal with no legal effects. They can make their name seal using the alphabet, Hiragana, Katakana or Kanji.

2. For those who want to make the name seal officially registered, you need to be an official resident, as temporary visitors or tourists are not allowed.

In What Situations Do Foreigners Need Hanko?

If you’re a foreigner who plans to live in Japan pretty soon, you should check when you actually need to use Hanko in Japan.
You usually need Hanko in the following situations:

1. When you want to live in an apartment or buy your own house
2. When you open your own bank account
3. When you make any business contracts
4. When you want to buy your own car

Do you see now why Japanese people are using Hanko on a daily basis?
Some of you may be surprised to know that there are so many types of Hanko.

In the year 1997, the Liberal Democratic Party tried to change the law of using Hanko promoting the paperless way of business, but it failed since there are too many steps and complicated issues to change this law.
Even though Japanese people also think that using Hanko is a bother, it seems way too difficult to abolish the usage of Hanko at this moment. Although the administrative reform minister Taro Kono is trying to get rid of the “Hanko culture”.

However, it’s not always a bad thing to have to use Hanko. People can protect themselves from fake paperwork or fraud.
All people want their life to be secure, right?