At the bottom of our posts you may notice a seal with Japanese characters. Some folks have asked what that is. Well it’s called a personal Hanko and it’s our copyright seal for the articles here on A Pirate’s Portal.
In Japan, seals in general are referred to as inkan or hanko. The first evidence of writing in Japan is a hanko dating from 57 AD, made of solid gold and given to the ruler of Nakoku by Emperor Guangwu of Han. At first, only the Emperor and his most trusted vassals held a hanko seal, as they were a symbol of the Emperor’s authority.
Noble people began using their own personal hanko after 750 AD, and the Samurai began using them sometime in the Middle Ages. At the time, the Samurai were permitted exclusive use of red ink for their hanko impressions. Modernization of these seals began in 1870, and the hanko finally came into general use throughout Japanese society.
A jitsuin, is an officially registered seal. The size, shape, material, decoration, and lettering style of jitsuin are closely regulated by law. Traditionally, inkan and hanko are engraved on the end of a finger-length stick of stone, wood, bone, or ivory, with a diameter between 25 and 75 millimeters (1 and 3 in). Their carving is a form of calligraphic art. The most common form of this calligraphic art is the Japanese Kanji or the Chinese script.
Today the most common ink used is red and hanko sets are kept in decorative boxes to honor their history and the importance of their purpose. These boxes are kept under high security; except at official ceremonies, at which they are displayed on extremely ornate stands or in their boxes.
These seals are still used in Japan for professional and personal purposes, Government offices and corporations usually have inkan specific to their bureau or company. Most requiring registration with local government offices much like a trademark is registered in the U.S. today. Like a signature to a Westerner, they are indispensable tools for Japanese adults in authorizing a myriad of transactions, from automobile registration, to bank activities, and even to setting up house utilities. Nearly any occasion that would call for a Westerner’s signature would call for an impression of a hanko in Japan.
We first became exposed to the hanko when my Mom was seeking certification in a spiritual healing method known as Reiki. Without getting to deep into what Reiki is, it is taught by trained and certified Masters. Since this is a healing art that holds its history in Japan, the hanko not only identifies the traditional method, but also the masters who are certified in its historical lineage.
Using the hanko in this way makes it harder for charlatans to claim lineage that they have not acquired legitimately. There is some amount of prestige to being taught and certified by a traditional Master. So it’s a lineage that is often desired by modern spiritual and holistic healers.
One of these traditional Masters, Rev. Beth Gray used her personal hanko on graduation certifications (Beth Gray Certificates). This practice inspired many of her graduates to follow in those footsteps not only to honor her teaching, but also the lineage of traditional Reiki. When my Mom became a traditional Reiki Master, she adopted this practice and acquired her own personal hanko.
We use our personal hanko to identify our writing, to place copyrights on our intellectual property and to honor our own historical connections to the past. Mom has acquired one for all of us, so Dad and I have one too.
If you are interested in your own hanko, I suggest the following websites:
- East Asian Seals – Wikipedia
- Japanese Hanko Seal – Wikipedia (Seal_(East_Asia)#Japanese)
- Japanese Connection – Handmade Hanko seals
- Japanese Kanji Dictionary – A Japanese to English translation
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