What exactly is a hanko?

John Millen |

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Ms Chan:  For this month’s “Show-and-Tell”, Brian is going to tell us about something he brought back from a recent trip to Japan.  What’s in this box, Brian? 

Brian: It’s a hanko.

Ms Chan: A what?

Brian: A hanko. But before I show everyone and explain what it is, may I tell you how I got it?

Ms Chan: Of course!

Brian: Last Christmas, I went with my parents to Tokyo. It was the first trip to Japan for all three of us. We stayed in an area called Nihonbashi. Dad and I thought it would be a good idea to go to the Nihonbashi Information Centre and find out more about the area. 

Ms Chan: Was it easy to get to the Information Centre?

Brian: Yes.  It was close to our hotel. The people there were very helpful. They gave us some maps and leaflets. They also gave us some suggestions about what to do in the area.

Ms Chan: And what did you do in Nihonbashi?  

Brian: Well … mostly shopping, because it is a business district. Mum really wanted to go to a famous seven-storey department store called Mitsukoshi.  Dad and I were definitely not looking forward to that!

Ms Chan: Don’t you like shopping Brian?

Brian: Of course not! I was hoping we could visit the Kite Museum but it was closed during the holiday period. Luckily, one of the ladies in the Information Centre told us about a hanko making workshop the centre was organising, and Dad and I decided to sign up for it.  

Ms Chan: So, what exactly is a hanko?

Brian: A hanko is a seal engraved with your name, and most Japanese use it every day instead of writing their signature on letters and documents. There are three different types of hanko: one for everyday things like receiving parcels, one for financial transactions, and the last one is an official seal used for signing contracts. Here’s mine!

Ms Chan: It looks very elegant. What is it made of and what do the characters on the seal mean?

Brian: Mine is made of a type of wood called tsuge. There are others made of stone or horn. You can also choose to have your name engraved in hiragana, katakana or kanji script. Mine is in kanji, and these three characters are a translation of my name. They mean “samurai”, “thunder” and “bravery”.

Ms Chan: That’s really cool. Can you use your hanko on official documents?

Brian: No, I got one that’s for everyday use. My dad got an official seal but he needs to register it at the local city office so that it is recognised by the authorities.

Ms Chan: Have you used your hanko since you got back to Hong Kong?

Brian: I use it all the time!  

Ms Chan: That’s great!   Now, can you pass your hanko around the class so we can all see how it looks like?