The History of JAPANESE SEAL HANKO:
When Was the First Hanko Used, and Why?
The culture of using seals dates back to 5th millennium BC Mesopotamia. It reached Japan by AD 57 —
though it’s likely it was even earlier — but there is historical evidence from at least that year. After the
Taiho Code (the administrative and penal code of the Taiho era) in 701, the Imperial family began using hanko for important contracts. Each emperor has a specific seal created especially for them, so as Japan crossed over from the Heisei era into the Reiwa era in 2019, the new emperor accepted his unique personal seal.
The aristocracy started getting seals made by the late Nara period, around 750, and samurai got into
the game during the Kamakura period and beyond. It wasn’t until the Meiji Period (1868-1912) that the hanko became widely used by Japanese nationals across the country. The reason was a law that enforced a unified national system of certification, which finally allowed the general public to use their own personalized hanko.
The hanko has now become a cultural item passed down from generation to generation, and is an important item for Japanese people to confirm their “will” and “responsibility” in everything that’s signed between the government, corporations and individuals.
Hanko Today, Hanko Tomorrow
Despite fears of the hanko disappearing as banks increasingly allow handwritten signatures and digital methods of verification, the humble hanko still remains popular. Those in favor of phasing out the hanko complain that it’s part of an outdated system that needs to get with the times. However, proponents to remove it forget why it has lasted so long (and why it will remain in the future) — it’s an integral part of Japanese culture. Basically, it’s more than “just” a stamp and follows a person throughout their lifetime. Hanko are used at the most significant moments in people’s lives: when submitting marriage certificates, registering births, purchasing cars and buying houses — even certifying death certificates. Because of this, hanko are increasingly popular gifts at weddings, coming of age day, and other important occasions. Given the hanko is synonymous with major life events in Japan, it won’t be going away anytime soon..
Kamakura Hanko Craftsmanship
Originally opened in 1951 in the Kansai region by Satoshi Tsukino, Kamakura Hanko is now run by
third generation owner Mitsuhiro, who carves custom hanko by hand just 5 minutes away from Kamakura Station. The store sources its seal stocks directly from Yamanashi – the largest producer of hanko stocks in the nation – and offers over 30 types of high quality materials from stone to horn and wood. The selection over 100 hanko cases, also made by Yamanashi craftsmen, offers a design to suit almost any style.