To be official in Japan, you must have a signature stamp, or official seal, known as a Hanko 判子. Instead of signing documents, you simply apply your family stamp.  No signatures needed. I recently discovered that one needs a Hanko to open up a Japanese bank account, which I needed to accept a teaching job.  I had no idea how difficult it would be to open up an account, but it took me an entire week.  On Monday, I walked to a local bank and attempted to open up an account by myself.  After a failed attempt at describing what I wanted in my horrible Japanese, the bank worker came back with a picture of a hanko stamp and a passport.  Ah….I needed both of those to open up an account.   Not knowing how to order a hanko, I contacted a Japanese friend who was fabulous, and helped me with every step of the process.  She called a local hanko shop that could complete the task in two hours, wrote my name in Japanese for me, and then translated what I needed over the phone when my google translate app wouldn’t work.  She is amazing and I am very thankful for her!  We went with the cheapest hanko possible, but many in the shop cost between $200 and $300 dollars, with some costing upwards of $500!!

Based on extensive Wikipedia research, we learned that special hankos can be passed down from generation to generation, and many people will get new ones when their life circumstances change, like after a divorce, or a string of bad luck.  But this is Wikipedia of course, so you can never be sure.  We simply needed a banking hanko, so a cheap and quick material was fine for us.  For banking, you always use red ink, but for personal mail, you can use a variety of colors.  Back in the day, red ink was reserved for samurais and nobility, but today, red ink can be used by everyone, and it is used for all official documents.  Armed with my hanko, I went back to the bank and opened up an account.  I smiled the entire time I was stamping official paperwork.  Very exciting indeed!  I feel very Japanese now with our very own stamp.