What is a Hanko?
A personal seal, inkan(印鑑), or hanko(判子) is required in place of your signature for certain legal actions. Opening a bank, taking a loan, and accepting package mail are some examples. For those moving to Japan, one of the first things to do is to make and register a personal seal. For travelers, it can be a unique souvenir or gift for someone back home. The process to make one is simple and they’re sold at a reasonable cost so we don’t see any reason not to make one!
What is the difference between Hanko and Inkan?
The difference between hanko and inkan is that hanko is the tangible object and inkan is the red seal that comes from the hanko. These words are used interchangeably by native speakers but there’s a slight difference in meaning between the two terms. When these institutions are requesting you to have your hanko with you, they actually need the inkan, which is what actually binds contracts. In a related manner, other stamps are technically also considered a hanko, like the ones they have at the train station, but they do not produce inkan, since their markings have no legal value.
What is the purpose of a personal seal?
Inkan is used to approve certain actions in Japan such as opening a bank and taking a loan. Depending on the institution that requires it, the use of an inkan can be labeled as one of the three categories: Jitsu-in, Ginko-in, and Mitome-in. You are able to use one hanko for all three uses, but most prefer to use two or three different ones for security reasons. In addition, there are some hanko that doesn’t require a separate ink pad called a shachihata(シャチハタ) and as convenient as these are, they cannot be registered as a Jitsu-in and Ginko-in but can be used as mitome-in.
This is the mark that you register with the government. This can be done by visiting the ward office. You will have to bring a form of ID to confirm your inkan, so the katakana on your inkan matches that with your ID. Once registered, you will receive a seal registration card(印鑑登録証). With this, you can register for a seal registration certificate(印鑑証明書), which is what you will need when taking out car or house loans.
This is the mark you register at the bank when you open your bank account. This seal is required along with the handbook (手帳) for making withdrawals directly at the bank. As a result, it’s best to keep your Ginko-in as far away from your handbook as possible and never lose both at the same time.
This is the seal that you don’t register but has your name on it. This is used for non-legal matters that still need confirmation such as accepting parcels and setting up utilities.
What is the Required Size?
Hanko is sold in various sizes and materials. Any material can be registered for Jitsu-in and Ginko-in but the size is required to be between 8mm-25mm diameter. There are charts on the internet about different size ranges for each usage, but these are only recommendations and not necessarily a requirement.
What to do if I lose my Hanko
If you lose your hanko, the first thing to do is to file a report with the police and they will contact you in the case that it’s found. For a mitome-in, there’s no further action to take but to replace your old one. Since this one is not registered, ths seal can’t be used for any legal matters so the chances of misuse are low. As for the Jitsu-in and Ginko-in, these are both registered with the government and the bank respectively, so there is a lot more risk when losing these. The first step would be to contact the institution to suspend the use of your lost hanko. In particular, the Ginko-in is connected to your bank account so its recommended to do this as soon as possible. After reporting your lost hanko, you would have to make a new one and replace your registration in both institutions. The risk of losing both of these at the same time can be high, hence the reason most people keep these as separate hanko.
Where do you buy one?
You can buy a hanko in various places. The fastest option is to go to Don Quijote and use their hanko machine. However, when registering a seal as a Jitsu-in or Ginko-in, its best to avoid easily reproducible ones and getting one custom made.
You can go to a hanko store for this. Finding one is as simple as opening google maps and typing “hanko” (more results if you type in Japanese “ハンコ”). Another alternative is to make one online. When making one, you have to use your name in katakana so make sure that the spelling matches that on any ID in order to register your inkan.