Kitaji Family Hanko Signature Seals
~A 126-year Tradition Born of
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Hanko--horn, wood or stone seals imprinted with the bearer's name--like a signature to a
Westerner, are indispensable tools for Japanese adults in authorizing myriad transactions,
from automobile registration to bank activities to setting up house utilities. Nearly
any occasion that would call for a Westerner's signature would call for an impression of
a Japanese's hanko.
Hanko were formally introduced to Japan in 701 AD, but were available only to those in
positions of high authority. During the early to mid-seventeenth century, hanko were
adopted by the general populace. Interestingly, the common people of Japan were not
allowed to have family names until the late nineteenth century, so there must have been
much confusion with hanko prior to this time with so many people having the same name.
hanko business was begun by his great, great grandfather, 126 years ago.
The founder was a samurai who became masterless (a ronin) by the new drive of the
Japanese government to shed its old feudal ways and open the country to Western ideals.
He took a job in a government print shop and soon became skilled enough to start a
private enterprise. Eventually, he focused mostly on creating hanko.
The modern Mr. Kitaji's business, although very successful, still sells only hand-carved
hanko, in spite of the advent of sophisticated carving machines. Mr. Kitaji sells
mostly to Japanese, but he says an increasing number of Westerners are purchasing hanko,
phonetically spelling their names with Japanese characters that may also simultaneously
represent a favorite virtue or characteristic. It is good news for his business as he
sees an increasing number of transactions in Japan that allow for credit card verification
rather than the traditional red seal, a trend that doesn't bode well for this icon of Japanese
If you would like to begin designing your own hanko, click here.