Hanko for Business

All businesses in Japan need to have their own Hanko in order to sign documents and be recognized as a legal entity.

How Hanko are used in the office

Japanese businesspeople use their personal hanko almost every day, starting with the equivalent of “punching in.” While some companies track the comings and goings of their employees with a security IC card, it’s still popular for companies or university departments to use an attendance log book for employees to make their mark when they arrive. The vermillion ink of a hanko seal makes it easier for managers to scan visually at a glance, so this is still a popular analog method for attendance-tracking.

At their desk, a worker may begin their day by checking their e-mail as well as some physical documents that pass through their desk, such as trade magazines, newsletters, new patent reports, memos and notices. Workers are supposed to stamp somewhere on these circulated papers with a simple hanko or Shachihata (rubber pen stamp) to show that they checked the information before handing it off to the next person.

Hanko may also be affixed to quick write-ups for trip reports or meeting minutes for their superiors. The quality of the write-up reflects the worker’s value of the superior’s time. Workers want to make the face of the report look serious, important, and neat because it is their “product,” and during performance reviews, they are often assessed through the quality of the work they produce. Someone’s hanko impression in vermillion ink represents their seriousness and commitment to the quality of their work.

Depending upon the importance of the document, a worker might select their bigger, more “official” hanko to be sealed next to their name on the front page. It is also natural that the more important one’s “product” is to them, the harder they tend to press their seal to get a crisp impression. A blurred impression is seen as a reflection that the worker may not be very serious about the work.

This practice descends from the Samurai spirit, which put heavy emphasis on trust, contribution, sincerity, commitment and loyalty. In feudal Japan, the lords would prepare keppanjo (血判状), a contract of fealty sealed with the samurai’s fingerprint, cut by their own swords. The vermillion color of the modern seal is said to emulate the color of the samurai spirit, a covenant sealed in blood.

Getting back to your modern desk…

Say you are a senior corporate officer and you are looking at a set of documents describing a new project the risk of which is beyond your local management’s authority to approve. You have to take some time to go through the documents and request details and clarification before you can affix your seal of approval. If you approve it, you press your corporate officer hanko on the document’s face.

The same rule applies to senior officers; the higher the stakes, the harder the pressure of sealing is. And in fact, you might see a manager breathing on the face of its hanko right before sealing with it. You could say the person is warming up their hanko, but consciously or unconsciously, they are transferring their soul and wish for success on it.

If you are the CEO, the final decision maker, your seal represents the decision itself. If you are CFO (Chief Financial Officer), you’d have your own corporate hanko for dealing with financial institutions. This seal is always seen publicly on the company’s financial reports if the company’s stocks are publicly traded. If you are the general manager of a department with the delegated responsibility to submit proposals, conclude sales/purchase contracts, seal distributorship/agent agreements, send bills, issue receipts of payment, and apply for approvals, you probably use your hanko many times per day.

If your company is directly dealing with or applying for approval from the central or local governments, these seals are registered with several government offices. Therefore, if there is a change of leadership, the new CEO’s official hanko must be registered with each government office. Much has changed in Japan since feudal times, but the importance and prevalence of hanko has not diminished.

Hanko Sets for Business

All corporations and legal entities in Japan have a set of three hanko:

Corporate Jitsu-in (会社実印)

It is a round inkan and with a double-circled seal design. The corporation’s official name wraps around the outer circle, while in its inner circle the name of the corporate representative employee (normally the CEO) is carved. Because it bears the representative’s name, corporate jitsu-in is therefore also called Corporate Executive Director’s seal (代表取締役印).

This seal’s impression is registered at the local Legal Affairs Bureau where the new start-up company is registered as well.

Ginko-in (銀行印)

This hanko is used to open and manage a bank account for the corporation. Its seal impression is registered at the bank.

This hanko also uses a double-circled design. Just like the corporate jitsu-in, the company’s name is carved in the outer circle, while in its inner circle, the words “corporate seal for banking” is carved in Japanese (銀行之印) instead of an individual’s name.

Ginko-in is used not only for daily banking but also issuing corporate checks, bills and deals regarding its tangible assets.

Kaku-in (角印)

Kaku-in is a square shaped hanko normally used to issue receipts or less significant documents like small agreements etc. It literally translates as “square seal.”

Kaku-in are used just like mitome-in for individuals. For important documents including contracts, corporations tend to use both Kakuin and Corporate jitsuin to seal the document.

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We can create a custom hanko set for your business or legal entity. Fill out the form and we’ll get in touch.

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