Jul 7, 2018

Do you even Hanko, bro?

As an expat in Japan, one of the big debates was whether or not to invest in a hanko.  For those of you who don't know, a hanko is a personalized seal, and if you do any official paperwork ANYWHERE in Japan, you'll be asked to provide your little red stamp over a circle and symbol that looks like this: 印.

Hanko come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on the user and the purpose.  For example, official government seals are typically square and fairly large (none more-so than the official imperial seal). 

Still, your standard family hanko looks something like this:

Do you even Hanko, bro? photo

 They're made of plastic, soapstone, or another type of stone, and hanko are supposed to be completely unique in design since it is your personal "signature."  The hanko must be registered at the local city office under your family register, and there is typically one official hanko per household.  Certainly, more can be registered and added for individual family members, but that's typically not the case.

You might also see small hanko on sale even at 100 yen stores.  If your name is Seki, Tanaka, Suzuki, or any of the other ubiquitous Japanese names, those cheap hanko are easy to come by and sufficient for "signing" for things like packages.  They, however, are not a substitute for the registered hanko for more formal transactions.

So the big question for expats is whether to get a hanko.  Several years back, they were absolutely a necessity--you wouldn't be able to sign a lease or buy a car on your own without a registered hanko.  Nowadays, many places will just have you register a signature and use your signature over the 印 symbol, making those formal transactions much simpler.

Me?  I have a personalized hanko (it was a going away gift from my old office), but I have not registered it yet.  If I ever do decide to purchase a home here and opt for some more permanence in the country, I will certainly take this next step, but I'm not quite there yet.

Do you have a hanko?  Any good stories behind getting the hanko, registering it, or using it?  Feel free to use the comments sections below!



Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.

Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).


  • edthethe

    on Jul 7

    I bought my hubby a titanium one as a 'congrats you are now a Japanese citizen' gift. I love how personalized you can make them

  • genkidesuka

    on Jul 7

    @edthethe Wow, what a cool and thoughtful gift! I had no idea they even offered titanium hanko--crazy!

  • edthethe

    on Jul 7

    @genkidesuka i bought it on Amazon. my husband's kanji is pretty rare so they messed it up the first time. But they quickly sent a new one