A hanko is a personal seal or stamp featuring an individual or organization ' s name written in kanjii (Chinese characters). The hanko is used in East Asia as proof of identity on official documents and other items requiring authorization.

There are several varieties of seals and two of them are used by individuals: a personal seal and an officially registered seal. A registered seal is needed for official transactions such as purchasing land and bequeathing property. Individuals must be 20-years-old in order to obtain a registered seal.

Traditionally, hanko are engraved on the end of a small piece of hard wood, bone, or ivory, with a diameter ranging from 25 and 75 millimeters. The carving of hanko is considered a form of calligraphic art. Foreign names may be carved in rōmaji(Romanized Japanese), kanji, or either of the two Japanese syllabaries, hiragana and katakana.

In contemporary Japan, most individuals have several hanko .
The most secure and complex forms of hanko are used for banking and real estate dealings, while prefabricated hanko are used for everyday tasks such as signing for delivery of packages. These prefabricated rubber stamps are unacceptable for business purposes. Registration and certification of hanko may be completed in a local municipal offices. Upon registration the individual receives a "certificate of seal impression."

The first evidence of writing in Japan is a hanko made of solid gold dating from the year 57A.D. This hanko is widely believed to have been a gift to the Japanese Emperor from Chinese Emperor of the time.

One of the first hanko used by Japanese was a chop, an official seal featuring its holders position in the government. The oldest chop used in Japan dates from circa 467. In the year 701 various chops are created, each officially assigned to a specific government position.

Personal seals were first officially allowed for use in 785. Only nobles were allowed to use these seals, while commoners were to sign or seal documents such as divorce paper and commercial documents with the print of their forefinger.

Around 900, the nobility began using a hand-written sign called Kao instead of hanko . Commoners still used fingerprints. Around 1200 trade between the Chinese Sung Dynasty and Japan increased significantly. Influenced by Chinese culture, warlords began to use hanko .

During the Edo period(1603-1867), samurai primarily used hanko , though they sometimes used kao . The commoners had started using hanko but usage was not universal. Even at this early time hanko were so important that landlords or prominent men kept them for the farmers and merchants in the area. In 1931, government issued an edict stating that registered hanko must be used for official documents. Today a hanko is required for most paperwork in Japan.

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