Friday, September 30, 2011
My personal seal
Several years ago in Japan, I bought the handmade inkan, or seal, together with its case and red ink pad photographed above. It had to be custom made because "Wood" is not a common Japanese name (although I suppose I could have gone with 森 which is pronounced "mori" and means "a wood, woods, a forest" and is a common Japanese name). Rather I went with the transliteration of the English, which is ウッド and pronounced "ood'do."
If you are Japanese or, I'm told, a foreign resident in Japan and need to conduct any official business, you need a seal, which—if you have a common name—you can buy in a stationery store. You register your signature and seal at the municipal office (i.e., city hall) and receive a "certificate of seal impression." and use it for official documents: a marriage certificate, divorce, death certificate, land sale and the like.
According to a Wikipedia article, most Japanese also have a far less formal seal than the inkan registered at city hall. They use these to sign personal letters or initial changes in documents; this is referred to by the also broadly generic term hanko. They often display only a single hiragana, kanji ideograph, or katakana character carved in it. The characters in my inkan are katakana, the characters used for foreign words and names.