The majestic heights of Mount Fuji. Geisha walking the streets of Gion in Kyoto. Cherry blossoms. Only the hanko seal captures all of these iconic images, as well as the essence of Japanese culture itself, within one gorgeous – and easily portable – wooden tool. This is the mission that Mitsuhiro Tsukino, third-generation owner of Kamakura Hanko, shares passionately with international guests at his studio workshop.

What is the Japanese Hanko Seal?

Kamakura Hanko

Hanko, a handmade Japanese seal used in lieu of signatures, has been used in Japan for just under 2,000 years. Hanko is used for everything from accepting letters at your front door to opening a bank account. Just as a signature is an extension of yourself, so too is the hanko an extension of the holder. Handcrafted and infinitely customizable, these personalized stamps are not only, when registered, binding seals, but also make a beautiful gift.

Hanko Still has a Place in a Digital World

Kamakura Hanko

In recent months because of a certain global pandemic, there has been a shift from offline to online work in Japan. In his short time in office, Prime Minister Suga removed the use of hanko from 800 administrative processes. Tsukino says the hanko industry is supportive of this evolution. “There should be no useless stamps,” he says. 

The treasured tradition of hanko should of course still be protected, says Tsukino. The seal, which serves the same purpose as a notary public in the US, continues to provide important functions in Japan, and is used to engrave turning points in life such as marriage, childbirth, home purchases, company establishments, etc. And to some, the hanko is seen as a safer, unhackable option to the digital seal.

As an extension of self, there are some administrative tasks where a simple digital transaction doesn’t convey the significance of the occasion, and, while convenient, the humble signature does not hold the same cultural weight as the time-honored hanko.

Join a Workshop at Kamakura Hanko

Kamakura Hanko

At Kamakura Hanko, international guests are invited to dive into the history of hanko, as well as watch how these extensions of self are intricately created, during welcoming workshops led by Tsukino and his wife Chieko. When it comes to making your own hanko, everything is customizable, from the local materials used in the hand-carved tool, to the elegantly designed case.

The seal itself is also reflection of you, with special markings placed on the hanko purporting to good fortune in money, love, life, etc., though Tsukino prefers to impart upon his guests the hanko’s social influence and cultural significance.

Other than these approved markings, official hanko will only contain the name of the wielder. More fun-filled, personalized hanko, called mitomein, are endlessly customizable with anything from cat paws to your favorite food.

While the digital world has advanced, the hanko stamp has evolved with it, and Tsukino says venture companies are exploring ways to combine the traditional hanko with technological gadgets. Like Japanese culture, the hanko represents the careful and graceful progression through time. Witness for yourself at Kamakura Hanko.


To book a workshop: