In Japan, there are different types of seals that are used for a variety of purposes. Most Japanese people have at least one or two, but often have three or more. It’s helpful to think of them as special passwords that you can use for different occasions. There are three major types of personal hanko, scroll down to learn more.
Mitome-in are the most common type of hanko, for casual, daily use
Mitome-in is your standard, unregistered hanko, carved out of a hard material like wood, stone, metal or acrylic. The word “mitome” comes from the word meaning to acknowledge or accept. For most people coming to Japan in the short term, this should suit your needs for signing basic contracts, opening bank accounts and getting a cell phone.
Mitome-in can be indispensable for office and paperwork. Office workers, teachers, graduate students and research assistants have reported that they keep their mitome-in with them because they use it frequently.
Ginko-in are registered to use to access your bank account
When using a hanko with a bank, the bank will register the mark to your account, making it official for use with that bank. This is called ginko-in (銀行印), or “bank-stamp.” Whenever you use your ginko-in, the mark is compared to the registered impression to ensure it is the official mark.
An unregistered mitome-in can pretty much have anything on the seal, but your bank may have more restrictions. Generally, if you include your first or last name in your seal, you should have no trouble getting it registered with your bank.
As long as it meets the bank’s requirements, you can use the same hanko as your mitome-in and ginko-in. But because the ginko-in has this added power, most people use a separate hanko from their casual mitome-in to register with their bank account, and keep it in a safe place. If they have multiple bank accounts, they may even have separate ginko-in for each bank.
In cases when you use your ginko-in, you must also present your bank book. Although it seems more convenient to keep your ginko-in and bank book together, Japanese people tend to store them separately for added security.
Jitsu-in are most official, registered with the local government.
Your jitsu-in is your most powerful hanko. It has this power because it must be registered with the local government, and the design must be unique. No two jitstu-in are the same, even if they contain the same characters. Because it has this power, most people choose a larger hanko to use for their jitsu-in, and use their full name on the seal.
Think of it as your signature + fingerprint: it is as official as you can get. Although you can use your jitsu-in for less official uses, it’s common for people to reserve their jitsu-in for only a few formal situations, such as:
- To seal an agreement to purchase or sell real estate or something of similar value.
- To seal a loan agreement like a mortgage.
- To register your properties to your municipal administration.
- To seal a joint surety agreement.
- To seal any other agreements that are related to your rights or liability for a relatively large amount of money.
For occasions that require you to use your jitsu-in, you’ll also need to present a document called a proof of registry, issued by your local government office. This is meant to prove that the seal you are using is indeed registered to you.
The important thing to remember is that the name on your jitsu-in must match your legal name in Japan. If you wish to write your name using katakana or kanji on your jitsu-in, you must register it as an official alias (通称, tsūshō) with your local government. Your alias will be listed on your ID cards and proof of registry documentation. If your seal doesn’t match your legal name or alias, you will be unable to register the hanko as jitsu-in, but you may still be able to use it as mitome-in or ginko-in.
Hanko for Business (会社の判子)
Any legal entity such as a business or organization must have their own hanko which are registered to the local government to give the entity the authority to sign contracts and other legal documents. One of the first steps to incorporate a business in Japan is to register its hanko.
Other Hanko (その他の判子)
There are some other kinds of hanko not covered by these other categories, such as artist chops, teisei-in (small stamps used to initial changes on contracts and official documents), or goshuin (used to stamp scrolls and stampbooks of pilgrims that visit temples and shrines).