In Japan, You may need to stamp your seal (also called as “はんこ / Hanko” or “印鑑 / Inkan”) on various documents instead of signatures. Signature is sometimes enough, but some procedures require you to stamp your seal.
People who are accustomed to signing may be confused, but it is often necessary when living in Japan, so let’s learn how to use it.
* Strictly speaking, “Hanko” and “Inkan” have different meanings, but now they have almost the same meaning.
- Types and Uses of Seals
- Can We Use Signatures Instead of Seals?
- How to Register Your Seal
- How to Issue a Seal Registration Certificate
- Shops Where You Can Create a Seal
Types and Uses of Seals
There are three types of seals, depending on the purpose.
Registered Seal (実印 / Jitsu-in)
A registered seal is a legally effective seal, and it needs to be registered at the city office to use.
It is used mainly for official procedures, such as buying and selling real estate and cars, taking out life insurance, making loan contracts, inheritance, etc.
The size should be 8 to 25 mm and should be made with the family name, first name, or full name that matches the registered name. The material is OK if it has excellent durability, such as black buffalo and titanium.
For your information, even if you make your registered seal with your family name, you cannot share it with your family. Each person who needs a registered seal should prepare one for their own.
Bank Seal (銀行印 / Ginko-in)
As the name implies, a bank seal is a seal required for bank procedures. The seal stamp that you registered with the bank when you opened your account will be the bank seal.
Most people usually use ATMs to withdraw their living funds from their accounts. However, if you want to withdraw the amount of money that exceeds the ATM transaction limit, you will need to go through the procedure at the counter. At that time, the bank seal is used to confirm the identity.
Please keep in mind that the bank seal will be necessary when applying for direct debit and when changing information such as the address provided to the bank.
Unregistered Seal (認印 / Mitome-in)
Seals that have not been registered as official seals or bank seals are called unregistered seals and are often used when stamping general contracts, application forms to city halls, and resumes.
It is also used for office work and receiving courier, but it is convenient to use Shachihata (described later) for these purposes.
Even if it is not a registered seal, stamping it means “approval” or “acknowledgment” to the content. Therefore, please make sure to confirm the contents of the document before stamping.
Shachihata is a term that generally refers to a self-inking seal, and is used mainly as an unregistered seal. We call it Shachihata because the name of the company which developed the self-inking seal was Shachihata (シヤチハタ).
Normal seals need a red ink pad at the time of stamping, but in the case of a self-inking seal, the red ink pad is not necessary as the ink is built-in. Therefore, it is very convenient for everyday use.
However, some official or important documents requires you to use seals other than Shachihata. This is because the self-inking seal has a rubber stamp surface.
Rubber and plastic seals can be deformed and worn out, and their imprints may change depending on how they are pressed, so they cannot be used for important documents. Please be sure to use the Shachihata when it is allowed.
Can We Use Signatures Instead of Seals?
It is difficult to substitute a registered seal or bank seal with a signature.
On the other hand, you can use a signature instead of an unregistered seal in some cases. For example, Japanese people often use signatures to receive luggage from courier service.
If you want to use a signature, please ask the document submission destination if you can sign instead of stamping a seal.
How to Register Your Seal
To use your seal as a registered seal, you must register it at the city or ward office in your area. By registering your seal, you will also be able to issue a seal registration certificate.
Here, we will introduce the procedure for general seal registration. In any case, it is necessary to bring a personal seal to be registered as a registered seal.
However, please be aware that the procedure may differ slightly depending on the identification document you can prepare.
In Case You Visit the Counter Yourself
If you visit the counter yourself, the procedure varies depending on the type of ID and the presence/absence of a guarantor.
Procedure with an ID with a Face Photo
If you have a driver’s license or other IDs with a face photo, you can basically complete the seal registration on the same day. If you are a foreigner, prepare a residence card.
Procedure without an ID with a Face Photo
If you can only prepare an ID without a face photo, such as a health insurance card, you will need to complete the first procedure and then return to the counter with a letter of reference that will arrive at your home.
Procedure Without an ID with a Face Photo, with a Guarantor
If you have a guarantor such as a family member who has already registered his/her seal, you can complete your seal registration on the day you visit the city office, even if you only have IDs without a face photo.
In Case Your Proxy Visits the Counter
If you are unable to visit the city office for your seal registration, you can ask your proxy to do it.
The procedure for registering a seal may differ from the above depending on the city. Please check the procedure for your area on the website of the municipality.
When completing the seal registration procedure, you will get a seal registration card. By bringing this card, you will be able to issue a seal registration certificate at the counter.
How to Issue a Seal Registration Certificate
You can issue a seal registration certificate, which is required for purchasing real estate or a car, by applying at the counter of your municipality.
If you want to issue it at the city hall, there is an application form, so fill in the necessary information and submit it to the counter. Please note that you cannot issue the certificate without your seal registration card.
If you have a My Number card and have registered an electronic certification for user proof, you can also issue a seal registration certificate at the multi-use copier in convenience stores.
Please note that an application to the city office is required to get an electronic certification for user proof. For details, please check the website of each municipality. As an example, here is a page from Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture.
- Electronic issuance of certificates (Public Certification Service for Individuals service)| Sagamihara city
Shops Where You Can Create a Seal
There are chain stores such as Hankoya 21, where you can make your seals nationwide, but most of them do not support foreign languages like English. So here we introduce the ones that support English.
Some stores accept orders online, so if you have difficulty visiting the real stores, please consider it.
- Kyoto AKINOYA HANKO (English)
- HANKO SHOP RAKUZENDO (English)
- japanese-name-stamp.com (English)
- Kanji Hanko (English)
Some of the important contracts and procedures in Japan require a seal, and it may not be possible to substitute a signature.
Therefore, it is good for foreigners in Japan, especially those staying in the medium – long term, to create a seal at a specialized store first.
It is confusing as there are three types, but let’s remember because you may need some (or all) of them in your life in Japan.