Before you sign your life away….

…take a pause and make sure your jitsuin (実印, official personal seal – the kanji is “reality/truth” + “seal/stamp”) is facing the right way.

There are several different types of inkan or “seals” that bear one’s name in Japan. They’re used much like our signatures in the U.S.


Because Japan is a cash-based society however, Japanese folks don’t often sign their names on receipts. It would make every transaction quite tedious in fact. Then again, nowadays, we in the U.S. sign so much (not to mention on screens with our fingers) that we hardly manage a legible letter. Sometimes it’s a line. A very unique (or not so unique personal squiggle). Or a smiley face.

In Japan, inkans are used in place of signatures for most purposes. To sign into attendance at school, I use my inkan. It has my name written in katakana. I take it out of my little wallet, out of its plastic case, and find the finger groove. I press it into the red ink pad firmly, and then carefully press it onto the attendance sheet. My clean, consistent, personalized mark is left on the page. Then it goes back into the case, back into the wallet. Imagine all of this every time you were to sign your name.

Here’s the kicker with that though. The even more official inkan, which is called a jitsuin, is like a social security card. It is not easily replaced. It holds much more weight. It doesn’t have the groove for your finger telling you which direction is correct. The intention there is that you must turn it over and really look at it before pressing. Consider the pause this creates. Before attaching your official seal to a document, you have to stop and turn the thing over to make sure you’re doing it right. Maybe you notice the weight of the moment. You take notice of the decision to place your mark. And then finally you line it up and carefully, without smudging, attach your identity to the document. Imagine doing this for every purchase. Quite different from drawing your finger mindlessly across a screen I should think.  


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