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Hanko, or traditional ink stamps, are used to sign everything from delivery receipts to marriage certificates in Japan, and a push to digitise the nation and phase them out faces an uphill struggle. Photo: AFP
Japan’s new prime minister is declaring war, but there’s no danger of an international conflict: the target of his ire is the humble ink stamp known as hanko.
It might seem ironic in a country often assumed to be a futuristic tech-savvy paradise, but Japan’s business world and bureaucracy remain heavily dependent on paper documents, hand-stamped with approval.
The drawbacks to hanko, which are used for everything from delivery receipts to marriage certificates, have become increasing clear during coronavirus -- many Japanese were unable to work from home because they had to physically stamp documents in the office.
Now Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is on a push to digitise the nation, but he faces an uphill struggle when it comes to the stamps, which range from mass-produced plastic ones to hand-carved wooden versions used on special occasions.
Artisan stamp-maker Takahiro Makino, who painstakingly carves miniature characters into each unique piece he makes, isn’t too worried about the drive.
“We shouldn’t keep using things that aren’t necessary. But on the other hand, an object of value will survive no matter what,” he said.
Documents have to be stamped by everyone involved in the decision-making process, which can be very time-consuming. Photo: AFP
Sturdy handmade stamps like Makino’s cost several hundred dollars and are often given by parents to children as a coming-of-age gift -- an essential tool for a responsible adult.
Their unique design is registered at city hall so it can be verified when used to validate property deeds and other important documents.
For everyday signatures, people use smaller, cheaper mass-produced seals, and the stamps are often a key part of an office worker’s daily grind.
That’s precisely what Suga and his administrative reform minister Taro Kono are keen to stamp out.