INKAN: The must-hold personal seal in Japan

We are pretty familiar with seals used by organizations or officials. But in Japan, every citizen should possess a personal seal with their name(usually family name/surname) engraved on it. If you are living in Japan for a long-term, you might also be requested to submit your personal seal for opening a bank account or other official transactions. You may usually see the character 印(in) or sometimes the word 印章(inshou) in documents or applications forms where you have to make use of these personal stamps.

Photo by Scott Ashkenaz on Flickr

These personal seals are called Inkan(印鑑) which is an identification stamp that everyone in Japan uses instead of the signature. These personal seals are small round/square shape with your name inscribed on it. The seal basically known as Hanko is dipped in red inkpad(‘shuniku’) to make the stampings known as ‘Inkan’. Recently, signatures are also widely accepted by some offices. Sometimes Inkan is used along with the signature.

Personal Hanko(Inkan) types

Most Japanese hold three different Inkan for their personal use.

1.Mitome-in(認印): These are seals that are used for everyday transactions. These simple Inkan are used by people while accepting registered mails, parcels etc. These can be used at places like private shops, clinics etc. where you can conveniently make as many stampings on the customer bills or other daily unofficial documents.

Self-inking type Inkan: Photo by Steve James on Flickr

The most convenient type self-inking Hankos are used by shops or institutes for this purpose. The inscription on this kind of Inkan will be hiding deeper inside the edge of the rod and it will come out while stamping. As the rod has red ink inside it, there is no need for carrying a separate ink pad. It is possible to refill it with the right amount of ink when needed. These are not allowed to use in official matters.

For Mitomein you can either make an Inkan uniquely for yourselves or you can buy some readily available simple ones from the shops. As it doesn’t hold any legal value, this can be any seal just to mark your acknowledgement on things that you have billed or delivered.

2.Ginkoin(銀行印): These are Inkan which can be used for bank transactions. Once you use an inkan while opening a bank account, you should bring the same while visiting the bank for further transactions.

Some banks need registered inkan for banking transactions, but most places just need some kind of inkan to be submitted for opening a bank account. This inkan can be either your registered one or simply a Inkan bought from among the readily available ones available at the shops. These Inkan should be the ones with the inscription projecting outwards at one end of the rod. Self-inking ones are not used for banking needs.

Photo by Shibainu on Flickr

3. Jitsuin(実印): These are legally usable Inkan which should be registered with the city/ ward office. The local authorities will issue an inkan registration certificate(印鑑証明) upon submitting the application along with your residence card or PR certificate. These are used while buying houses, vehicles, for taking a loan or preparing a will or other legal transactions. This legal Inkan is made in such a way that it differ for each person. Apart from your name, it may hold some private information of yours. So upon seeing the seal, you might not be able to understand every mark on it.

This officially usable Inkan will have the inscription projecting outwards at one end of the rod. These are dipped into the inkpads for stamping it every time. Even though offices or banks used to provide the ink pads, people always keep personal inkpads with them.

Inkan for Foreigners

Foreigners are allowed to use their signature in most cases, but when it comes to bank or other Japanese offices they will ask to submit your personal seal. For most banks, you can select some readily available Inkan from the shops, which you have to use for all transactions related to that account. Japanese surnames usually contain two or three kanji characters, Hanko could be made in a small radius. Once the number of characters on your inkan increases, the radius of your personal seal will also widen. Even though the family name is used as inkan by the Japanese, foreigners may use other symbols or their first name. In Japan, the names of foreigner’s are usually written in katakana, the special letters for writing other-language words. Writing a name in Katakana will demand more space on the Hanko surface. In this case, Romaji(Spelling Japanese words using English alphabets) may also be fine to make the Hanko.

Hanko shops

There are many Hanko masters, small and big Hanko makers all over Japan. For Japanese, there are a lot of common surnames for which the seals are readily available at the seal makers, bookshops, or even at the 100 yen shops. For rare names, there are no means than to consult the Hankoya(seal makers). Online Hanko shops like HankoyaMoriinbo, Japanese name stamp(for foreigners), Kanji-hanko, Name-stamp etc. will also get your inkan done one online orders. Japan’s metropolitan cities like Tokyo have Hanko vending machines, which will create your Inkan in minutes. This locally available Inkan is not safe to be used as Jitsuin because of the security reasons. Hanko masters are consulted for making these official Hanko.

At the Hankoya, they will ask you to select the type of Inkan from a lot of types and colours, the price of which varies. Black and wooden coloured seals costs around 1000 yen which are the cheapest. For those which can be used for official purposes, it costs around 2000 yen onwards. The shops will get your inkan ready in a week from the day you ordered it.

Inkan cases(印鑑ケース)

Like everything in Japan, the outer covering is as much important as the item enclosed in it. So, for these very important personal seals, Japanese do care about the case. Lots of varieties of Inkan cases are available in the shops. For the cheapest one, you can get one from the 100 yen shop where also you can find lots of varieties and colours. The Hankoya will be handing over your new seal in a small leather bag which usually comes in standard black colour. But for the official inkan, as you have to always carry the inkpad with it, it is better to buy a case that encloses the inkpad in it. Hankoya has many varieties of inkan cases at their showcase from which you can select a better one. We can find really expensive items at several shops. Even Inkan are also available in more than 20000 yen. The gorgeous looking expensive Inkan cases are sometimes used as a very standard gift to friends or relatives. While visiting Japan, these personal seals can be selected as one of the unique souvenirs for your dear ones.