Japan has a tendency for keeping things that are, as some might say, from a different era. One look at the typical office and you’ll find mountains of paperwork sitting atop of a living fossil; the fax machine. In addition to Japan’s strange fixation on the fax machine, there is another object, something much, much older, that they just can’t seem to move on from – the hanko, or, as it is known in English, the personal seal.

The oldest existing hanko dates back to 57 AD, and was gifted from the emperor of China to a king in Kyushu as an acknowledgement of his status. For quite some time after this, the hanko was used as only a symbol of class, and it took a relatively long time before they began to be used for official documents by the government in the 8th century. Having survived as part of Japanese culture for almost 2 millennia, it’s easy to see why it’s so hard for Japan to let go of.

Although once limited to kings, noblemen and the government, today the hanko is a part of normal life in Japan, and I don’t think it would be taking it too far to say that pretty much everybody owns their very own personal hanko. A basic requirement for registration at a bank, and the usual go to when signing contracts, or receiving mail, having your own hanko is a necessary part of life in Japan.

Despite the strict use of hanko in official situations, the rules surrounding the design are actually fairly lax. Aside from containing an element of the owner’s name (it can be your whole name, your last name only, or even just your first name), the rest of the design can be quite creative.
Because of this, there are a considerable number of novelty hanko available, and even includes designs featuring Pokémon or popular Sanrio characters. Whilst these can be fun to look at, they’re probably best not used in the most formal of situations. However, there is a way that you can still have your very own designer hanko that can be used for all of those important documents whilst showing off a little bit of your individual creativity.

Available online from 7 June, these new designs from Hirobundo Shiroyama feature zodiac signs intertwined within the engraved name.

The zodiac hanko is great not only for your very own personal seal, but also to be given as a gift to a friend or family member. Unless you know what someone’s favourite Pokémon character is, it can be hard to choose a character hanko, but when it comes to these zodiac designs, all you need to know is their birthdate in order to give them a special gift that matters.

As a custom made product, you can be sure that each zodiac hanko is different from the next, with a portion of the name merging into a zodiac design that cannot be replicated twice.

Purchasers can choose the sign and request where it will be located upon the engraved hanko. Alternatively, design choices can be left to the craftsmen, who will draft up several possibilities and send them to the customer for choosing.
Once the customer is happy with the design, the craftsmen will begin the process of engraving the hanko. Adjustments and corrections will be free of charge up until the final design agreement.

This new lineup of hanko will be available to purchase and order online from 7 June 2021, however if you can’t quite wait, they are available to pre-order now from here.

By - Connie Sceaphierde.