National | Regional voices: Chubu

As Japan's banks snub personal stamps, hanko makers pin hopes on growing foreign population

Chunichi Shimbun

With Japan’s foreign population expected to grow in light of the new visa statuses introduced this month, makers of hanko (personal seals) see a new opportunity for business.

The traditional seals are still required to conduct various kinds of transactions in Japan, from purchasing cars and houses to opening bank accounts and confirming registration documents.

Their use, however, is getting phased out at major banks, and the government is allowing a larger portion of their administrative procedures to be completed online without them.

Hankoya.com Inc., an Osaka-based company that sells personal stamps online, began offering a service last November that transcribes foreign clients’ names into kanji with similar pronunciations. After receiving an order, the company creates a stamp with the kanji that is sent to the customer together with an explanation of the characters.

One seal it made uses the four kanji 奉流駒凛 to spell Brooklyn. It says the characters represent “respect and dignity.” Other examples on the firm’s website include 亜流敏 for Alvin and 栗洲泰能 for Cristiano.

A Hankoya.com official said personal stamps for foreign people are selling well and offering the company a new source of income.

According to an organization in Nagoya that supports foreign trainees, there are companies abroad that make personal seals for people moving to Japan. But since most use roman characters or katakana, they tend to bloat to the size of corporate hanko.

In recent years, major banks have started to launch services that do not require hanko to complete.

Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. fully adopted the signature authentication system in business 2018.

Customers can register their signatures in a digital form that includes data on the strength and direction of their pen strokes. The data is used to confirm identification, eliminating the need to carry their hanko around for such procedures as opening bank accounts.

In September 2016 MUFG Bank started offering a way for people to open accounts without using personal seals. Instead, they send the bank an image of their driver’s license using a smartphone app. Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank in Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture, took a different route by adopting a palm vein recognition system in May 2017.

The government, too, is moving away from the trusty hanko.

In March, the Cabinet approved a so-called digital-first bill aimed at making all administrative procedures paperless in principle.

“Currently, more than 90 percent of the documents that need to be submitted to the government, including real estate registration applications and tax documents, can be done online,” said lawyer Hiroshi Miyauchi, 58, a member of the Daini Tokyo Bar Association who is well-versed in contracts that use electronic signatures.

“It’s a hassle to use hanko and personal seals are easy to counterfeit,” Miyauchi said. “As the number of foreign people is increasing, companies should take this opportunity to seriously think about whether they really need hanko.”

Still, Shachihata Inc., a major hanko maker in Nagoya, is confident Japanese society and the business world will retain the use of hanko. “Even with the increase in foreign people, our established culture will not be easily forgotten,” a Shachihata official said.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published April 9.