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All about Japanese Hanko stamps

All about Japanese Hanko

All about Japanese Hanko

In most countries around the world, you would use a signature to authorise a contract or to authenticate a transaction. 

But in Japan hanko are used in most situations. If you intend to live, work or establish a business in Japan, you will need both personal and business hanko.

What exactly are hanko stamps ?

What exactly are Hanko ?

Hanko, also known as Inkan, are carved stamps which are used in place of handwritten signatures in Japan. They are used in most situations where you would otherwise sign or initial documents including the signing of contracts, banking in person and the receiving of parcels.

The terms hanko and inkan are both used to describe the seals. Originally, the word hanko referred to the carved stamp and the word inkan referred to the impression left by the stamp. The words are now used interchangeably by many in Japan. However, inkan is a more appropriate choice in formal situations.

Which types of hanko might you need?

There are three types of personal hanko and three types of business hanko.

Personal Hanko

Personal Hanko

Mitome-in – a recognition seal that is used to sign basic documents in day-to-day life. This type of hanko is not unique to the person, can be mass produced and does not need to be registered.

Ginko-in – a stamp that is utilised for banking purposes. Some banks do not require foreigners to use ginko-in. Ginko-in must be registered with any financial institutions where they are to be used.

Jitsu-in – an official seal that must be unique and registered. A jitsu-in is required when starting a company. This hanko is used for important contractual documents such as mortgage agreements.

Business Hanko

Kaku-in – the business equivalent of a personal mitome-in. It is used to sign the least significant business documents.

Business Hanko

Ginko-in – a stamp required for financial transactions and the company’s bank account management. It features two circles with the outer circle contains the company name and the inner circle acting as the corporate seal for banking. Ginko-in must be registered with financial institutions.

Kaisha Jitsu-in – the most important business hanko. It features two circles, with the outer circle containing the company name and the inner circle containing the company representative’s name. A kaisha jitsu-in should be registered with the Legal Affairs Bureau where the business was registered. 

What should feature on hanko?

A personal jitsu-in hanko must feature at least part of your name. It is possible to use your whole name, your last name, your first name or a legal alias that has previously been registered. The name must appear in Katakana, Kanji or Latin characters but if you are not Japanese and intend to use Katakana or Kanji, you must first register a katakana or kanji version of your name at your city office.

What should Hanko feature?

To limit the possibility of counterfeiting, it is recommended that Japanese people use their full names on hanko. But with non-Japanese names often being quite long, it may be necessary to use just a first name or last name as space on the stamps is limited. 

It is best if your jitsu-in is different to your ginko-in and mitome-in. There are no restrictions on the shape of jitsu-in but they are generally circular or square. The impression must fit into a square with a width of 8mm – 25mm.

What is the process for obtaining hanko?

Hanko are obtained from hankoya (hanko shops). Bricks and mortar shops were once everywhere in Japan but are less common now. These days you can order your hanko online. The relevant websites tend to be in Japanese only and so you may need assistance in placing your orders.

When ordering hanko you begin by choosing the material that your stamp will be made from. Small wooden hanko are inexpensive while silver or titanium versions can be extremely costly. After selecting the material and style, you choose the size and typeface for your hanko and input the characters as you wish them to appear on the stamp. You can usually review a draft design before a hanko is made. It is recommended that jitsu-in hanko are fashioned from durable materials and not wood as the stamp cannot be used if worn areas develop.

obtaining Hanko

You could also take advantage of a hanko box, a machine that will engrave a seal in minutes. The machines are located at Don Quijote stores and enable you to make your selections via a touchscreen.

When you receive your hanko, take it to the inkan registration section of your local city office together with either your residence card or your “My Number” card.  You will need to complete a simple form and pay a small fee to register the hanko. Following registration, you will receive a seal registration card (inkan torokusho). You can also obtain a certificate of seal registration (inkan shomeisho) for a jitsu-in hanko each time you need one by showing your registration card. Certificates are often required when using jitsu-in for signing important doucments.

What happens if you lose your hanko?

lost Hanko

Jitsu-in and ginko-in hanko are used in place of signatures for legally binding documents and banking transactions and so should be reported to the police if stolen. Your hanko should then be cancelled at your city office or bank. You can then order new hanko and register them. If you simply lose a Jitsu-in hanko, order a new one and then visit the city office to cancel the lost one and to register the new one. You will also need to cancel a lost ginko-in hanko at any financial institutions where you use it and then register the new one.

What is the future of hanko?

future of Hanko

The Japanese government is attempting to limit the use of hanko. It has already eliminated the seals from many administrative processes. But the people of Japan do not appear to be ready to give up their seals. The use of hanko may not be compulsory in the future but is likely to continue, at least for the signing of the most important documents.

Word connection blog

Noel Myatt

4 min read

May 27



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