The History and use of Hanko Stamps in Japan

The Use of Hanko in Japan: Past and Present

This is what a hanko stamp seal looks likeHanko stamps (判子) or otherwise known as Han or Inkan are stone, horn, wood or rubber stamps that are created with the individuals name on the bottom of it. It’s basically a signature that we westerns are familiar with. They are used practically every single day in Japan by most people and are used to stamp a letter, or purchase a car. The history of the hanko is a bit different, they came to Japan from China but were only available to people of top authority officials usually in government. It took almost 1,000 years after they arrived for the general population to finally be able to use these hanko stamps, but interestingly enough the general population of Japan was not allowed to have any type of myouji (surname/family name) until about the late nineteeth century.

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Hanko stamps in general date back to 5500 B.C., where it first made it’s appearance in the Middle East as personal symbols being engraved on stones, shells, clay and wood. It’s started because of similar reasons a cattle farmer wants to brand their live stock, people used to use these stamps to identify their personal property. These hanko then found themselves inside Europe, then they finally hit into Asia. At this current point the oldest hanko in existence in Japan is made of gold as was given to the Emperor Guangwu of China back in 57 A.D. Han Dynasty. The seal was given to a king who ruled in a city near where Fukuoka is today as acknowledgement of his status.

Japanese government authorities began to use these hanko for official documentation for authentication around the eight century and since then the Hanko has been also used by high governing officials and even samurai for most of Japan’s recorded history. They were common also amongst merchants and even farmers in the Edo period (1603-1868). The current hanko system was really started amongst the Meiji Era (1868-1912), finally in the early 1870’s the government passed a law that required people to register their personal hanko that will be used for important legal and personal documents.

Perhaps you’ve seen some of these red seals on papers in gift shops or on a painting before? But it’s not just for paintings and crafts, the hanko stamp is used to sign for things as well in Japan. Instead of simply signing your name over and over again the people of Japan will stamp their way to a cramp free hand.

These hanko (or just han) stamps are in the hands of every single person in Japan, it’s quiet normal, although as a western it is odd that I’ve seen these stamps, yet most people have no clue that these are used in daily life to this very day in Japan. When people order the hanko stamps their price is determined by 3 things: shape, size and material. Some are stone, some are rubber and some are made of wood and some sadly are still made from ivory. The size is then determined by how complex it is based of the use of characters. When hanko are made they are made  simply for your last name, as in Japan they always use their myouji (Surname) first instead of their first name. There are hanko that do have both, but in Japan most people will not used it unless there is a certain occasion like purchasing a house.

It said that average Japanese do not even have a first and last name hanko, and if they do they might use it 1 or 2 times in their entire lifetime. When it comes to westerns using hanko it’s good to note and be aware that there aren’t Kanji that can exactly pronounce your name (most times), with that said, you’ll be using the next best thing which is pronunciations that are close enough to do the job. On other note, some names in English and in other languages have actual meanings, so perhaps your name is “Brook”, there are a set of Kanji to describe a Brook and thusly you’ll have your hanko based off of those kanji instead of the pronunciation.

A Bunch of Hanko Stamp in SlotsThere is also 2 different shapes of hanko, round and a square. It’s good to note that if you are buying this for yourself, you’ll want to purchase a round hanko as it’s used by individuals whereas square hanko are used by organization. Although artists will use the square hanko for their artworks. Another interesting note is that in Japan people of a certain class, such as a PhD do not add that they are a Doctor or Sensei to their hanko or signatures, it’s seen in Japan as a sign of insecurity to have to tell people you are who you are. If you were to do this for yourself being a foreigner, you’d just be viewed as culturally ignorant. It’s said that people who are confident and accomplished do not need to tell others that they are. In Japan people judge this type of ‘self proclamation’.

As a foreigner you can use a hanko for some legal documents but not all. Many times a signature is still required, like if you were to buy a car, or a house, you will no doubt need a signature to do so. BUT, if you wanted to go the extra mile you would register your hanko with the government.




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Religion in Japan: Politics to Nothingness to Everything

Learn About Religion in JapanJapanese Religion: It’s Different Here!

What exactly is happening spiritually in Japan? Is there something that we Westerners can learn from Japan?

As I have for at least half my life now, I’ve been researching religion in all forms. I’m no stranger to the ideas of religion and the golden thread that is present within all major and minor beliefs. But despite whatever you and I think of religion here in the West, Japan has a very flexible and moveable reins which the Japanese can move when it comes any changing tides in their country, be it political or natural. The major religions of Japan are Shinto and Buddhism, but there is also small signs of Confucian, Taoism, Hindu, Islam, Christianity and Catholicism (only about %1 follows Christ in Japan).

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Politics and Religion in Japan

Disappearing Buddha in Japan

Izanagi and IzanamiInstead of 7 days and 7 nights of creating the world it’s said in Shinto that after the creation of Heaven and Earth two kami (gods) were instructed to create a series of islands which soon became known as the land of the rising sun! These two kami were Izanagi and Izanami, and as they stirred the oceans the islands of Japan started to form.

But, beyond mystical kami that were instructed to create islands, this religion of Shinto has been said to be actively being practiced since the Joman period (14,000 – 300 BC). It’s very likely as religion does in Japan, it changed it’s mask to fit with the times at hand. In 600-800 AD written text begun to appear speaking about Shinto and the Imperial Family and the rites they took while practicing Shinto. But what exactly is Shinto?

Shinto can be best explained as a similar belief that the American Indians (or the Ainu People) have/had. Everything has a place, has an energy or a kami/god. Instead of just praying to one god as Westerners are so use to doing, Japan and the Shinto religion takes praise to all sorts of gods. You can find all sorts of these Shinto shrines across Japan, in fact there is said to be somewhere around 80,000 shrines in Japan, many simple shrines in the middle of a forest or near a river.

Buddhism in Japan is also a very affluent religion as well. It said to have arrived around in the 600’s AD in Japan and at first was rejected, soon there after it was accepted, but a great tragedy happened soon after, and it was said that the kami were rejecting this new belief, but even despite this horrible beginning, Buddhism took root in Japan and soon intertwined with Shinto. Many shrines across Japan have both Buddhism and Shinto rituals, statues, architecture and priests within the same compound. Although during the beginning of the Meiji Period (1869) Shinto was claimed to be the ‘State Religion’ in Japan and Buddhism was attacked and soon many newer shrines of Shinto would no longer collaborate with Buddhism ideology or effigies inside the shrine, although still the Japanese people carried Buddhism along any how despite the efforts of a group attempting to wither it away slowly.

Japanese people tend not to have titles when it comes to religious affiliation, instead it’s quite natural to mold into whatever is happening around them, be it Buddhist in nature or Shinto, the Japanese culture is mixed with both sides of this religious coin through private worship to popular festivals. But besides getting into the extreme details of these different religions and the whose who, I’m going to break down my beliefs that surround these ideas and how they became so popular in Japanese culture and maintain themselves, and perhaps it will sound spiritual to you, if it does, it’s meant to as I feel there is something bigger happening then meets the eye with these beliefs.

Shinto and Buddhism in Japan Social EvolutionThe more I research about these people the more I realize that these communities of belief were created long ago, and for a very long time in Japanese history they fulfilled a purpose of bringing people together in the search for meaning in life (and still do). Life is fragile and we all have had the feeling of a more powerful energy present in our lives, it’s natural that religion of any kind arrives because of this universal feeling everyone has had at one time in their life, but these two beliefs (Shinto and Buddhism) merged so well that it’s easy to see that a destiny or fate pulled these two paths together and is the reason they are so hard to separate after being interwoven.

Between cleansing rituals of the Shinto and becoming one with all in Buddhism, there is a infinity that surrounds the soul when one is cleansed and then given an idea of that all is one and that appreciation is a main key factor of health, wealth and joy in ones life. I’m personally one who has played with both sides of these ideas and I’ve come to say both of these beliefs have drawn a line of science and belief into itself.

Buddhism and Shinto Shrine with Buddhist PagodoFor example there is a new age belief called ‘The Law of Attraction‘ which is being constantly activated as the Japanese people practice these beliefs and ideas in their life. The LOA is simply what you think about and believe is what comes about (which is even taught in Christian scripture) and I truly know for a fact the mass practice of these beliefs are creating some miraculous results that are affecting the world, be it seen as good or bad, these results are furthering the evolution of man kind.

Japanese people can be said to be some of the most healthy people in the world for many reasons beyond just their highly nutritious eating habits. It’s the idea of being cleansed, being purified, being apart of All, having compassion for others, as ‘others’ are really just them, you or I anyway. Beyond just the ideas of religion or spirituality, I truly believe that these are meant to help keep the Japanese people sane and healthy (It’s Like a Massive Placebo Effect if you Will). What I mean by that is that, we humans are naturally hunter and gathers,  it’s a fact, and with that we are meant to only live in tribes of maybe 100 people at any given time. The Japanese people live in a place where all their human instincts are telling them something is off. So being able to practice these beliefs and use festivals of these ideologies to instead overcome the over thinking of the mind and to come together as a community is another socially evolved resolution to the crowding of the people of Japan.

I truly believe that there is a collective mind that humanity draws from and I don’t think that these ideas came together by accident. Inside all of this something was created inside their society because of religion in their lives. This, I believe is transferred as a quiet serenity towards the life that was given to them, a peacefulness and appreciation and respect for others in the very same small spaces they find themselves at times. I truly feel that if something like Shinto and Buddhism were not apart of the Japanese culture, they would have been much more aggressive then they have been, not just with other countries but within their own country, between each person. Now, don’t get the wrong idea here, I’m not saying the Japanese are completely free of human faults, in fact there is quite a few still left obviously, but I’m attempting to point out, these subtle customs that were past down throughout history from father to son or mother to daughter that has created a more cooperative society that instead works more so through synergy.

Was Spirituality Guided to the Japanese?
From hierarchical family customs, to how children in school are treated and taught to how the State of Japan supports so many different festivals and events to bring one another together.  These are all benefits of these two beliefs that have been so dominate in Japanese everyday life. I can say with great clarity that if these beliefs were to not have fallen in the lap of Japan, Japan would look and feel very much different then it does today, and I firmly believe it would not be a civilized society like it has become, I do not believe it would have ever had a period of restoration or economic growth without these underlying ideas from Shinto and Buddhism.

The world of Japan without compassion, appreciation and respect would be a very disorganized place!

So thank Buddhism and Shinto for the best parts of Japan! And although the political scene of Japan is being manipulated through these religion (as is not uncommon for the rest of the world either), I certainly feel there is more good happening because of these beliefs then anything the government could ever do to subjugate the public into something that would be harmful. As said before there is something higher then the words of man directing the influence of the world and Japan is no stranger to that idea/fact.

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Mommy, Where do Pachinko Machines Come From?

History, Laws and Rules about Pachinko Parlors in JapanThe Japanese ‘Gambling’ Industry and Pachinko Machines

Japanese brainwashing machine or popular casino game? …both?

Pachinko’s humble beginnings started in the most unlikely time in history, the 15th century, in England specifically. These first remnants of what would eventually be called pachinko started when an attempt to bring outdoor based games that were popular, indoors, such as a croquet. These first attempts at these games featured wickets, which soon were exchanged out for pins that could be knocked down. By the 17th century these games changed to include pockets. This eventually became known as billiards.

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But how does billiards make way for what is now known as pachinko? In fact before we continue, what the hell is pachinko anyway? Pachinko (パチンコ) is basically like a pinball machine (in fact it means a Japanese form of Pinball), it’s said to be a form of recreational brainwashing in places like arcades. You could say it’s very much just a gambling pinball machine. Pachinko is as popular in Japan as slot machines are in Western casinos. But it’s better to say that a pachinko machine is more so a cousin to the infamous pinball machine. It’s vertical like a pinball machine, but it does not have any flippers to knock the balls back into the gaming arena, instead a pachinko machine will use large amounts of small balls instead.

The person playing will fire the balls off into the machine and basically watch them as they cascade throughout the machine navigating metal pins on the way down. I’m actually sure you’ve seen children toys that are small versions of pachinko. You know that crappy plastic toy with 3 small metal balls and a tiny plastic launcher that sends the balls into the arena? In fact there is some antique handheld bagatelle pachinko games that are still being passed around the industry as fascinations, but, they are basically where these little crappy kid games came from! (And I know you know what I’m talking about!)

Old Handheld Pinball Kids GameBut what’s the point of pachinko, and what exactly gets the Japanese off by playing this mundane game? Well as the rules have it as the balls navigate throughout the arena they could find pockets that could catch the ball, which then will many times release additional small metal balls. You can very well say that these balls are basically like tickets you’d get from a ski-ball machine. You can then take these metal balls and exchange them for a pikachu pencil or hello kitty eraser. Of course these pachinko machines quickly have become more electronically stimulating, which keeps people brainwash… I mean entertained for hours and hours at a time.

These pachinko parlors in Japan are called Pachislo or Pachislots and these areas truly look like an overactive casino in Las Vegas, but instead of getting cash for playing you will instead exchange your balls for tokens or tickets instead. Since gambling for cash is illegal in Japan you have to jump through a few hoops to finally get paid for your big pachinko win by heading to a separate establishment from the parlor to receive your money for your tokens or tickets. But just because it’s illegal doesn’t mean the parlors are not raking it in big time, in this BBC Travel article, Pachinko parlors are said to make 30 TRILLION yen per year (which is about 250 billion USD).

But lets get back to where this crazy game even came from, but lets jump a bit forward in time. We know that the humble beginnings of this game also assisted some other well known gaming tables such as billiards. But it wasn’t until the 1920’s when a children’s toy called the Korinto Gemu (Corinth Game) was built. This game was based around an American named Corinthian Bagatelle. It first arrived as an adult entertainment pastime in Nagoya, Japan in the 1930’s and of course spread from there. In the 1980’s pachinko machines were simple mechanical gaming machine which used bells to indicate what was happening inside the machine. But I guess the best way to show how pachinko evolved over time would be to show a progression of pachinko machines over the years.

Early Version of Pachinko
1910 – Circle of Pleasure
A 1930s Version of Pachinko
1930’s Bagatelle Pachinko Machine
1953 evolved version of bagatelle's pachinko machine
1953 Successive Shot
1974 Nishijin Pachinko Machine
1974 Nishijin Powerflash
What the Japanese now know as a Pachinko Machine Arcade Game
Modern Day Pachinko Machine

So there you have it, a tid bit of this popular arcade game being played constantly in Japan. Remember, as long as you have a loop-hole and bright and loud flashing pachinko parlor you can certainly make a good amount of money playing with steel balls whilst in Japan, or better yet, funding their pachinko empire and the Japanese economy. You can try playing pachinko for free here, be warned, you will not stop playing, it’s ridiculous!

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