“A good name is more desirable than great riches;” Proverbs 22:1a
Shortly after our initial arrival in Japan many years ago, we visited a local shop to have our personal seal or “hanko” (判子) made. We had been informed that a simple signature would no longer suffice to open bank accounts or enter into any contractual relationship, but instead, a personal seal was required for all such transactions in Japan. Once it was decided how our name would be written in Japanese, a hanko was ordered and we were soon ready for business. We used that same seal for 34 years to sign for deliveries, purchase cars, register for health insurance, enter into cell phone contracts, withdraw cash from the bank and sign rental agreements.
Each hanko, like a signature, is unique and they can be made of wood, plastic, ivory or stone. The cheaper ones cost $10-20 USD, but more expensive versions sell for a few hundred dollars. The word inkan (印鑑) is often used interchangeably with hanko, but technically an inkan is the actual stamp on the paper whereas a hanko is the physical object used to make the stamp. Only red ink is used with the hanko and businesses or local government offices generally provide the stamp pad when you are requested to affix your seal to a document. These personal seals are usually protected in specially designed cases and it is important to register your hanko with the local municipal office. The government officials will in turn provide a document called an “inkanshomeisho” (印鑑証明書) required for important transactions, as it serves to verify that is your legal seal.
All businesses, organizations and even churches have their own official seals which are carefully protected due to legal liabilities if they are misused. As the representative of our mission organization, I was required to use a specially designed square hanko to authorize certain official documents. However, our religious registration as a mission changed, which called for the creation of a new hanko that was supposed to be round in shape. This anomaly confirmed what I had long suspected… I was a square peg placed in a round hole!
The author of Proverbs highlights the importance of maintaining a good name (Proverbs 22:1) in reference to our character or reputation. A hanko is designed to represent its owner, but how do our actions, words and attitudes represent us? This is a critical question we must periodically ask ourselves since the possession of a good name is far more valuable than great riches, power or influence. A good name can last well beyond our short existence here on earth and it potentially puts us in a position to in turn, have a meaningful impact on the lives of others. In contrast to this, a person with a bad name, who manifests an ignoble character, is not only judged by men, but by God Himself who alone can accurately evaluate such matters. A hanko serves to represent us legally, but a good heart is the best indicator that we are healthy spiritually. “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” (Proverbs 3:3,4)