Hanko & Inkan. A seal as a signature in Japan

In Japan, an inkan or a hanko corresponds to a signature. This signature is actually replaced by a seal on which the name of a person or company is engraved. This seal is used for most of the legal acts and contracts involving its owner. An inkan is necessary for every Japanese citizen and any long term resident in Japan. It can be required in order for you to sign contracts, open a bank account or for a property purchase.

What’s a Hanko

Unlike most countries around the world, it is not common to seal a personal engagement with a handwritten signature in Japan. Instead of that, Japanese people use a seal that, once affixed on important documents, acts as a moral and legal engagement on behalf of its owner. In most contractual processes that you will need to carry out, a signature in the form of your inkan will be required. If you don’t own one, don’t worry, it’s quite simple to get one. Foreigners will have their name carved in katakana or romaji.

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If you live in Japan, your hanko will be required in various situations. These could be: while opening a bank account, when renting an apartment, when buying real estate or when signing an employment contract. At every stage, you will be able to see this symbol: ㊞, on each document you will need to sign. In Japanese, 印 is the abbreviation for “inkan” and illustrates the mark left by your seal after affixing it. It’s in that spot that you need to apply your inkan.
A hanko can be made of wood, plastic or metal. Economic players, legal entities like companies and associations each have their own hanko as well, even though only a few people within the organisation are allowed to handle it. Using a company’s inkan morally and legally commits the company it stands for. Foreigners living in Japan for a short period of time do not usually need to make one. In this case, a handwritten signature can replace the hanko in most procedures they may have to carry out.

Hanko. A seal as a signature in Japan

Three different seals for different purposes

Depending on each stage of your life and the importance of the contract you’re sealing, three types of seals can be used.

Jitsuin 実印. This seal is made on demand (it’s unique) and needs to be registered at your city office. It is used for important documents such as a sales agreement for a car, real estate, or when writing a will. Anyone who’s at least 15 years old can register his/her jitsuin at the city office.

Ginkoin 銀行印. This seal is also made on demand. It has to be registered by your bank that will record its impression as you open a bank account. You’ll need to use it to sign bank documents such as bank transfers. The minimum age to register a ginkoin will depend on the one required to open a bank account, which varies across each bank or each type of account.

Mitomein 認印. You can use this seal for your everyday life actions. For example, when receiving a parcel at home or to notify your acknowledgement of specific documents at work. Any seal on which your name is carved becomes a mitomein if it’s not registered as a jitsuin or ginkoin. Some mitomein come with an ink tank. A mitomein won’t be registered at the city office and can usually be bought in ¥100 shops. Using this seal (also called shachihata) may be refused for some procedures such as the opening of a bank account.

Where to make your hanko in Japan?

Don’t worry if you do not know where to go to get your inkan carved. Just open Google maps or your browser and look up “近くのはんこ屋さん”, to find the nearest hanko shops.

The hanko: a seal to open a bank account in Japan.

Opening a bank account is a necessary step for anyone coming to work in Japan. It’s usually the first stage where an inkan will be required. Nowadays, most of Japanese banks still ask their foreign clients to use a seal as a signature. If it’s the case for your bank, you will need to have your own hanko engraved before initiating any procedure. Note that some banks, however, now accept handwritten signatures. Regarding this topic, you can find on our website all the necessary information, most frequent procedures, requirements from each bank and a list of banks where the opening of a bank account in Japan is easier for foreigners.