Apr 19, 2019
When I first came to Japan one of the very first things my company got me to do was to make a little stamp with my name on it. I was puzzled. What is this for, and why is this so important that we are doing this as part of our orientation?
Later I learned that this little stamp now with my name on it in katakana is called a hanko, and wow, do I hate this little stamp?
In Japan, your signature doesn't mean much. It is just a scribble of your name that other people can’t understand anyway, so instead, the way to identify yourself is with this small stamp.
The very first time I used my stamp was when I opened a bank account at Japan Post bank, and on my bank book now there is my stamp. Whenever I go to the bank I always bring my stamp because I expect that at some point they will bring out the red ink pad and asked for my stamp for things that I used to think of as my signature.
Why do I find the hanko so annoying then? It's because I keep it in one of my purses, but just one. There would be days when I go to the bank or city hall with a different purse and I couldn't get what I needed because I left my hanko in another bag. I could have all the IDs I have and show them everything. They have no reasonable logic to think that I am not who I am, except that I don't have the little stamp…
It also gets very annoying when I need to stamp in for work every day, which only makes it more difficult to keep track of where my stamp is. It's not like the people at work don’t recognize me. How many female foreign English teachers are there in the school anyway? But I just need to stamp in so that they can have a record that my stamp had been at work every day.
And the more disturbing part? The stamp isn’t actually that important to your identity!
When I talked to the officer manager at work about my annoyance towards bringing the stamp every day, she mentioned that I could make another stamp for a thousand yen just to keep at work. So I did, and it looks slightly different from the ones I used to use. The person in charge of checking timecards came to me a couple of weeks later. He told me that he realized I had changed my stamp and wondered if I lost my original one. I explained that I made one just to keep at school and he said that it is okay that I have changed it once but I can’t change it again.
…… wait a moment, so matching it to the original isn’t actually that important? What is the point then if anyone can go to the shop and get a stamp made to look similar to my name?
Another time I went to the bank to cash in a 30,000-yen cash-back cheque I got from SoftBank. The person asked for my stamp and I stupidly didn’t bring it. She then asked me to sign my name and made a photocopy of my residence card, then gave me the 30,000 yen in cash.
…… wait, so I sometimes need the stamp at the bank but not every single time??
There was another time when I asked someone at school to get a document authorized. She went into the principal’s office, saw that he wasn’t there but knew that the document got his approval anyway. She then asked the vice principal who just went to open the principal’s drawer, took his school-use stamp, and stamped my document in his name.
…… wait, so the stamp is actually for someone ELSE to use???
Japan still loves the hanko, but I really can’t appreciate it to be very honest.