December 15, 2011

Official seals

Courtesy Jason Michael.
One of Japan's living anachronisms is the use of a seal or hanko (判子) in daily life. There are five categories of seals, including a personal seal or mitome'in (認印) for when the FedEx guy delivers a package. Open a bank account and you'll sign with a ginko'in (銀行印).

There are also hanko for signing legal documents (jitsu'in) and artwork (gago'in).

If you plan on living in Japan for any length of time, you should at least get a mitome'in. Either have one made (the same time you order your business cards, which you should never be without), or buy a generic one at a stationery store for a couple of bucks.

The more formal jitsu'in (実印) has to be registered with the government, though when gaijin are involved, signatures are also accepted

Forging seals happens a lot in murder mysteries, but less often in real life. Like manual typewriters, even generic hanko produce a unique mark. But while ATM fraud is rife in Japan (relatively speaking), perhaps the weight of culture has preserved the sanctity of the hanko.

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