If you’ve been living in Japan for a while you’ve probably had to set up a bank account, apply for a phone, sign a job contract…something that requires your signature. If you’ve ever signed for something, have you ever wondered why that signing space for most Japanese documents is so freakin’ small? Well, the reason is that most times when a person signs an official Japanese document in Japan, they don’t use a written signature at all, they use a personal name stamp called a hanko.
I truly don’t think there’s a difference. I went to the post office yesterday to open a bank account and one of the clerks referred to my hanko as an inkan. I think the terms are interchangeable. The term hanko (はんこ or 判子) means “seal” while inkan (いんかん or 印鑑) can mean stamp or seal.
I perused a one of the small hanko shops near my house and there are hundreds of options, there were metal ones, wooden ones, red ones, green ones…I do not like them Sam I am…wait..sorry…my brain went Doctor Seuss for a minute. Needless to say, there are quite a few different options to choose from, and depending on the material, personal stamps can get pretty expensive. I have two different types of hanko, a circular stamp and a square stamp. I have looked at both stamps and can’t make out what the square one says whatsoever. The circular one is very simple and says Ash in katakana. From what I understand (and have seen) businesses use the square ones more often than not and individuals (i.e. personal signatures/documents) use the circular ones.
I am really trying to save money, because I won’t get my first paycheck until May 31st (OUCH!!). I was actually able to get my stamp through my company, and it cost me only 1000 yen. I don’t know if that’s normal, though. I think in general, a cheap hanko runs about 2000 yen. I’ve seen others that cost as much as
From my personal experience, I did not need an hanko/inkan to survive my first three years in Japan and I was able to secure a bank account, apartment, receive packages, join a gym, join a karate club and much much more. I think most organizations understand that you’re not Japanese and try their best to accommodate you. In those situations where they ask for a stamp, I would simply say I don’t have one and the attendant lets you make a small signature in, or near, the space where you’re stamp is supposed to go. If you are a bit more gung ho about adapting to Japanese culture, then having one is a good idea and will definitely save you some time.
I really wouldn’t worry about this at all because if a document is important enough to need your John Hanko** they will ask you for your alien card, address, etc. to verify your identity. I wouldn’t worry…not at all.
The Hanko/Inkan is a big part of Japanese culture and has probably been a custom for hundreds, if not more, years. Especially when you can get a hanko for such a low price, I say why not? “When in Japan, do as the Japanese do,” right?