火曜日, 1月 11, 2005


    Inkan are the name stamps used on formal documents instead of a signature in East Asia. Because each is custom-made and unique, it has a legal status similar to (but not quite as serious as) a signature in Western countries. I didn't need one when I was an exchange student in Japan in college, but now that I work in Japan I need one for the attendance book, which I have to stamp every day, and to signify receipt of my paycheck. My inkan is also registered with the bank. Most people also register theirs at the post office, but the post office will also accept a signature.
    When I arrived, my school ordered the very cheapest kind of inkan for me, made of wood. I was not very happy with their selection of kanji for my name, but I didn't say anything because I'd just gotten there and I didn't want to cause a fuss. I chose my own kanji for my name long ago, and the ones the school gave me were different. Although my kanji name is different in Japanese and Chinese, I like the fact that I can use one of the same characters in each--it gives me a certain feeling of continuity of identity, I guess, even though the character's meaning has nothing to do with the actual meaning of my name, if there is one. Anyway, the meaning of the kanji the school gave me were unrelated to anything. So I've always wanted a better inkan.
    When I went to China last summer, I had one made by a street vendor using my Chinese name. It was also cheap, and when I got it home I didn't like it because the imprint was so faint. It is made of stone, not wood, and has my Chinese zodiac animal carved on the top. I didn't do anything with it.
    When I went to Taiwan, I had a really nice inkan made. The stone is fossilized coral and very pretty. I gave them my desired kanji name. It would have been very expensive in Japan, but in Taiwan the price was much more affordable. The woman in the shop didn't make it in front of me like the Chinese street vendor, but sent it to me in Japan afterwards. I received it last week.
    Initially, I was disappointed because the imprint also seems rather faint. However, pretty-sunshine told me I just need to get the right shuniku for it. Shuniku is the red inkpad used with inkan. (The word means "vermilion flesh," and is one of my favorite Japanese words). I was also disappointed that at first glance, the characters weren't recongizable to me as my own name. They could almost have been anything. They were carved in the ancient semi-hieroglyphic style which I can't read. My other inkan have characters in the modern style, so I was unprepared for this. However, with close scrutiny I could eventually pick out which character was which (my first name is spelled with three kanji in Japanese; in Chinese, I use one character for my last name followed by two for my first). Now that I'm used to looking at it, I have no complaints with the design.
    I proudly took my new inkan to my school office and asked if I could start using it from now on. Unfortunately, I encountered yet another setback: the office staff pointed out that the new inkan is too big! It takes up the whole square of the date in the attendance book, covering the date number. To make me feel better, she told me that I could use the new one once a month when I get my paycheck.
    Having this pretty new inkan, of course I want to use it; although it doesn't make any difference to anything, some part of me rebels at using the cheap little wooden inkan every day with characters I didn't choose myself. At least I can register the new one with the bank and the post office, and get some high-grade shuniku to go with it. Hopefully if I get another job in Japan after JET, I can use the good inkan from the beginning.
    Here is something I wonder about inkan. I can't imagine ever throwing one away. If it were my family, and my parents and grandparents had inkan when they died, I would keep the inkan forever. So do people keep all of their dead relatives' inkan? In which case do inkan keep accumulating infinitely from generation to generation? Or do people throw them away after someone dies?


  • At 12:42 午後, Blogger Sanguine One said…

    Would you take the time to explain the difference between inko and hanko? I was presented with a hanko as a gift after some work in Takasaki and so am interested in its use.

  • At 4:01 午後, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    Inkan and hanko are the same thing. The word "hanko" is more common in casual speech. "Inkan" is the formal, correct word. For example, when you officially register one at your bank, it's called "inkan" registration, but in a casual situation someone would probably call it a "hanko". Same thing. I just prefer the word "inkan" so I tend to use it exclusively. Sorry for any confusion.

  • At 9:17 午前, Blogger Matt said…

    I asked a couple of people and they seemed confused by the question. But the general feeling seems to be that after a decent amount of time had passed and an inkan no longer has any value to potential thieves (all accounts shut down, etc.) it would be thrown away or carelessly lost (if it were a cheap wooden one) or just thrown in the safe on general principle (if it were expensive or had a nice design or sentimental value.)

    I guess the big old Japanese families must have safes full of the things, passed down for many generations through the eldest sons...

  • At 11:26 午前, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    It seems that people generally don't keep inkan for sentimental value. Coming from a country that doesn't use inkan, I think I tend to view them as very special, unique and permanent, thus overvaluing them. For those who use them for practical purposes, they are actually ephemeral, transient and even disposable.



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