The role of a personal seal in Japan. 【Do foreign residents require an “inkan”?】
・What is an inkan (Personal Seal)?
・Types of inkan
・How to have an inkan made and how to register your Inkan
・Does a foreign resident in Japan need an inkan?
About Inkan (Personal Seal)
For many people, it is only after arriving in Japan that they first encounter the term “inkan” or “hanko.” In Japanese, both “inkan” and “hanko” mean essentially the same thing – a personal seal/stamp that is the equivalent of a signature. Recently, inkan are increasingly popular as souvenirs from Japan. Indeed, an inkan engraved with a person’s name is a wonderful idea for a gift!
However, inkan are not just good gifts, but are sometimes necessary for life in Japan. In this article, we will explain what an “inkan” is in terms of living in Japan.
What is an “inkan”?
While modern signatures have become the mainstream even in China, where inkan originated, two other countries, Japan and Korea, are said to still have a “seal culture,” where the stamps remain important for daily life.
An inkan is a stamp with a name engraved on it. Inkan are used in place of a signature, and are used by both individuals and corporations to give approval to documents. In Japan, they are also used for legal contracts.
However, as a foreigner in Japan, when you sign a contract the signature makes the contract valid even without the use of an inkan. Despite this, it is often the case that Japanese people are of the opinion that a signature alone does not give a sense of formality, and that only by affixing an inkan can the document be registered as an official document and be worthy of trust. There are also a number of cases where use of an inkan will be expected. So, when you are doing business in Japan it never hurts to have your own inkan ready.
When do you need an “inkan”?
Inkan are required “when legal rights and obligations such as sales contracts arise.”
Specifically, the following cases are applicable:
・Renting or buying an apartment.
・Opening a bank account
・Buying, selling, or transferring ownership of a car
・Making transactions and contracts between companies.
・Preparing business minutes and contracts.
・Submitting official marriage documents to the authorities.
When two Japanese people get married, they put their personal seal on their marriage certificate. It’s a cultural custom, but having your personal seal stamped on your marriage certificate proves that you are serious about your marriage. Foreigners are not required to have a personal seal for their marriage certificate even when marrying a Japanese national, however, your Japanese partner probably won’t be displeased if you use one, and may be touched by the gesture! So, if you are a foreigner who plans to submit a marriage notification to the municipal office with a Japanese national, it could be a great idea to ask if your partner wants you to prepare an inkan for your marriage registration in Japan!
There are three main types of inkan, as follows:
A “jitsu-in” is an officially recognized personal seal that is registered with the municipal office of the city or ward in which you live. The process of registering your personal seal with the municipal office is called “inkan-touroku” (seal registration), and the registered seal is called a “Jitsu-in”. When you register your personal seal, you will be able to obtain a certificate of registered seal. With this certificate, you can be sure that the document was stamped by you using your own “Jitsu-in“.
When you use your Jitsu-in, it has the same meaning as if you had signed the document. Therefore, it is important to keep your Jitsu-in in a secure place. Should you lose or misplace it, go to the municipal office where you registered it and cancel the seal registration to prevent it from being misused.
A “Ginkou-in” (Bank seal) is a personal seal that is registered with a financial institution. Regardless of whether you are an individual or a corporation, you are required to register it when you open an account at a financial institution. It plays the role of proving that the person depositing the money is the person himself/herself, and is an indispensable seal for managing money.
However, an increasing number of banks are allowing foreign residents to open accounts without a bank seal. Temporary workers often are not required to have one, using their signature instead.
A “Mitome-in” is anything other than a registered seal or a bank seal as explained above. It includes seals from 100-yen stores and ready-made name stamps. The size and shape of the seal is not regulated in any particular way.
Seals in languages other than Japanese
It is possible to make and register a seal using “Katakana” or alphabetic characters. You can use your name as it appears on your residence card or at your registered residence if you are planning to make your personal seal.
How to make and register a seal
Lastly, here’s how to make a seal and register it.
How to make a seal
If you have an uncommon name in Japan, your seal must be made to order because there are no ready-made products.
If you consult directly with a seal making store in town, they will show you various samples of the printing surface, material, size, etc. so that you can make a seal that you are satisfied with. On the other hand, if you don’t have time to stop by a store, or want to have your personal seal made as cheaply as possible, you can order online.
For your reference, here are three stores that produce personal seals for foreign residents:
How to register your seal
To register your personal seal, all you need to do is to bring the seal you want to register to the municipal office where you have registered your residence.
However, some municipalities do not accept seals which use English, so it is best to check with the municipal office where you are registered before making your seal.
Is a personal seal necessary for foreigners?
Many foreigners who have lived in Japan for more than 10 years have said that they have had no problems at all without a seal, including signing lease contracts and creating bank accounts. However, there are some people who said they needed a seal for rental contracts and employment contracts. Considering the time it takes to order and receive a seal may be problematic if you suddenly need one, it could be a good idea to have one ready if you are going to live in Japan.
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