One sight commonly seen by foreigners here in Japan is the use of
personal seals. Instead of signatures, Japanese use personal seals
engraved with their name. It is also called using a hanko判子（はんこ）.
Contracts are invalid without such seals, and for anyone wishing to live
and work in Japan, it is important to understand the use of the inkan印鑑.
Some of you may be wondering what is the difference. The hanko is the
actual physical seal itself, while the inkan is the inked impression of
that seal, but many native Japanese use the two words interchangeably.
There are three major types of inkan generally used: Maruin, Kakuin and
- 1. Maruin (Round seal)
- 2. Kakuin (Square seal)
- 3. Ginkoin (Bank seal)
- 4. Special uses for Inkan:
- 5. Wariin (Tally seal) 割り印
- 6. Keiin (Joint seal) 契印
- 7. Keshiin (Cancellation seal) 消印
- 8. Teiseiin (Correction seal) 訂正印
- 9. Sutein (Contingency seal) 捨印
- 10. Tomein (“The End” seal) 止め印
- 11. Mekuraban (Blindman`s seal)
- 12. Sain (Signature)
Maruin (Round seal)
This is the seal of the company representative, and is usually round in
shape. The maruin is used to formalise contracts.
Kakuin (Square seal)
This is the seal with the company`s name and used for various reasons,
although possessing little binding legal authority. Contracts sealed
with the kakuin instead of the maruin are sometimes declared invalid.
Ginkoin (Bank seal)
This is the seal companies, and individuals, use just for their banking
requirements. Like passwords, it is a form of security by not having to
use the other two seals. There are size and shape restrictions in that
the impressed image must fit within the dotted red circle on bank forms.
An impression of your bank seal is always kept at the bank in your file,
so the bank can compare this impression with the one you make when
you’re doing a financial transaction.
An inkan is used to deliver an official seal to public offices, which
will issue notarised certificates of this seal on demand. Business
offers are normally accompanied by official documents with notarised
Special uses for Inkan:
Wariin (Tally seal) 割り印
Affixing a seal over the edges of two or more copies of the same
document, to verify that they are identical.
Keiin (Joint seal) 契印
Affixing a seal over the edges of all pages of a single document,
to verify the sequence.
Keshiin (Cancellation seal) 消印
Special tax revenue stamps must be attached to contracts, receipts or
other documents exceeding set values. The keshiin is affixed to these
stamps to prevent their recycled use.
Teiseiin (Correction seal) 訂正印
Affixed to the revised and deleted sections of contracts which are
corrected, to verify that the revisions were not added illicitly later on.
Sutein (Contingency seal) 捨印
An extra seal added to sanction further revisions ahead of the time.
This can be quite convenient, because the inkan need not be affixed
again even if mistakes are found or revisions made.
However, it can also open the door to illicit use and is only
recommended when the recipient of the sealed contract can be fully trusted.
Tomein (“The End” seal) 止め印
Affixed at the end of a contract to verify the conclusion. Another seal
which can provide the opportunity for illicit use.
Mekuraban (Blindman`s seal)
Automatically stamping documents without reading them. This is a method
widely used by workers who must process huge amounts of relatively
Many Japanese believe that no contract is valid without an inkan.
However, the signature is also an acceptable means of closing an
agreement. In fact, simply having the inkan with no name may be declared
invalid at times. It should also remembered that the inkan may be fixed
over a signature or a typed name.