Inkan - 印鑑
In Japan, one uses an inkan to sign contracts and official documents, instead of a handwritten signature. Here is mine:
As you can see, there's nothing particular about it, it's just a sceal with the name on it. There are many shapes and sizes, from the ugliest (but handy) one to beautiful hand-crafted models. Also, from what I've understood, the higher your social position, the larger your inkan (always the same story...). Well, mine is small but at least it's easy to carry!...The fact that one has to carry his own signature as a physical object probably sounds strange to a Westerner but, just like an id card or a credit card, it's just something to get used to.
So where can one buy an inkan? Usually in stationery shops, but there are also specialized shops and it's even possible to find them in 100-yen shops. Apart from the size and shape, the price can vary a lot: from 100 yen (80 cents) to several tens of thousands (several hundred dollars), and I'm pretty much convinced that some rare models go well beyond that. Nothing really surprising though, think about let's say...pens, it's just the same. In my case, my inkan cost 1000 yen, I ordered it at a stationery shop and got it within a week.
As for the characters choice, it depends. Japanese people normally write their family name, and people who have a rather common name are lucky as there are tons of ready-to-use inkan in 100-yen shops:
Paradoxically, foreigners have more options. They can use:
- family name written in katanaka: the most common and certainly most recommended option, it's the one I picked
- kanji that have a reading close to the actual family name prononciation
- in case the family name has a specific meaning, kanji that have a similar meaning
- free choice. As strange as it seems, it is possible to choose anything, even if it's totally unrelated to one's name: this is not really recommended though, for example someone whose name is "smith" and signs with a "Tanaka" inkan will most likely seem weird. As foreigners with fertile imagination, here are a few suggestions we came up with: 神様 (god), 痴漢 (pervert), 無名 (anonymous) etc...
Besides, an inkan is not just a fancy way to sign and without it, many things remain purely inaccessible! For example, opening an account at most banks, renting an apartment, etc, are just not possible. In my case, I needed an inkan to open a bank account, then I needed a bank account to suscribe a mobile phone contract.
Here's a practical example with my rental contract, where the inkan is used to sign and to initial each page:
Still, it's not a big deal not to have an inkan when it comes to everyday life, since it's not required for making a karaoke member card or renting a bicycle for instance. It is essentially used for occasional procedures (administration, clubs, banks etc.), so no problem for a tourist, but as a resident it is necessary!
Last thing: the word hanko is also used and even though it has the same meaning as inkan, the latter is more formal.
Category: Everyday life