Thursday, April 19, 2012

Westerners Sign Their Lives Away, Easterners Stamp Their Lives Away - Best Souveniers in Japan

"A signatures always reveals a man's character - and sometimes even his name." - Evan Esar

"Art is the signature of civilizations." - Beverly Sills

"You utter a vow or forge a signature and you may find yourself bound for life to a monastery, a woman or a prison." - Bronislaw Malinowski

Yesterday I went to Yokohama to visit Chinatown to make a "Hanko." A Hanko is also called a "Seal" sometimes and is a personal stamp that is used in many East Asian countries like Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam. What a person's handwritten signature is to a westerner, the Hanko is to the people living in these East Asian countries.

The Hanko is used, like a signature, to prove that you approved any sort of document, art, office paperwork, contracts and things like that. The big difference between a signature in the west and a Hanko in the east is that for a Hanko to be recognized as "official" it must be registered at a local government office. So having your Hanko stamp on something is pretty serious business here.

As with signatures, people are supposed to only have one. So most people only have one Hanko. Every company, too, has a Hanko. Different from signatures that are written differently every time because they are by hand, the Hanko stamp is the same every time. Because signatures vary a lot it seems that there is much more fraud with forged signatures in the west - but I could be wrong about that. 

Everyone in Japan has a Hanko and even lots of kids do too!

As I mentioned, I went to Chinatown to make a Hanko for a new project I am working on. Call me weird but I do believe in luck. After all, I know everyone makes their own luck, right? And, when you feel lucky, you are lucky. So whenever I want to start off on the right foot I want to feel lucky so I make the sojourn to Chinatown in Yokohama to see my friend Tei Hei.

Tei Hei creating one-of-a-kind art

Tei Hei is a cool Chinese guy and he makes the most awesome hand carved Hanko stamps that you've ever seen and he makes them right there in front of your eyes. He is so awesome and his art is so fantastic that he's been featured on many TV programs all over Japan! Tei san uses one of those hobby drills (kind of like a dentist drill) to make personalized Hanko and the artwork is awesomely breathtaking... The speed with which he completes the task is incredible!

The art is etched into the cellphones and smart phones... 
Those aren't stickers, they're etchings!

Tei san also makes some fantastic designs on your cellphones and smart phones to give them that one of a kind personalization. I think those are really cool and want to do that, but I've already dropped my cellphone in the toilet by accident twice so I am a bit hesitant to do that (probably my wife would kill me!)... Have never once dropped my Hanko in the toilet though so my wife doesn't mind me buying a Hanko - a piece of art - that will last a lifetime.

The prices for the Hanko, including stone and artwork, start at an amazingly low ¥2,000 each. I got this one made on onyx stone for ¥3,500. It is beautiful!

I highly recommend Tei san for anyone needing a Hanko or for anyone looking for the best souvenir deal in Japan. Think about it, you can go to any souvenir shop in Japan and spend ¥2,000 on trinkets, key chains and junk (made in China), but where could you buy a one-of-a-kind, only one in the entire world, Hanko with your name on it as a memorial for your trip to Japan? Or, for gifts for your friends back home?

This is Tei Hei's Hanko stand.

Tei san makes the best souvenirs for the price you'll ever see! 

Tei's "shop" is right on the street on the main street through Yokohama's Chinatown. His stand is on Chukka-gai O-dori in front of "Hana Ryu" restaurant. If you go there, copy this address and show it to someone. It's actually easy to find:

丁平 (テイ ヘイ)
横浜市中区山下町151 (横浜中華街大通り華龍飯店前です)
The address in English is:

Tei Hei
Yamashita Cho 151,
Naka-ku, Yokohama
Tel: 080-3083-2802 (I don't know if he speaks English! - Sorry!)

His web page is here:

When you go see Tei Hei san, you tell him the name you want... 
Explain if it is a family name or company. If it is a company, what
kind of business?

There are over 8,000 Chinese Kani and Tei Hei is an expert. He will find 
you the right combination for your name to convey, luck, health and prosperity... 
Then he will write it for you on paper.... 

When you agree, he'll state the price and if you agree, he's off....

It is simply amazing at how beautifully done and fast he makes 
these wonderful Hanko and keepsakes!

Thanks Tei Hei! Five stars for one of the best things to do in Chinatown and a memory that lasts forever!


Anonymous said...

That is pretty cool.

It kind of reminds me of Stampin' Up, here in the unitedstate. Only those stamps are rubber and not nearly as intricate. Lots of women go crazy over Stampin' Up, I don't quite get it myself. But the Hanko, I think I get that. Sort of like a lucky tattoo for things?

- clark

Anonymous said...

I had a "hanko" made - plain wooden one cuz I'm a cheapskate. That became my hanko for all official business, like getting a bank loan, etc.I applied for a loan. Phone call from the bank: "Ahem, the seal you stamped our documents with is not the seal originally registered with the local city office!"
"What! You nincompoops! Of course it is!!! This is outrage..."
Coupla days later, after I'd calmed down, I vaguely remembered (i.e. my wife reminded me) that 8 years ago, I'd lost my hanko and had had another one made: I had lots of stamped docs, I just gave one to the seal maker and let him at it.

I think they look over those stamps with electron microscopes, plus call in psychics. The old and the new sure looked the same to me.

Anonymous said...

Late Japanese film-maker Itami Juzo made a series of movies about tax evasion and the noble tax police who go after them. Very pro-state of course, but it gives you a good idea of how important those hanko are. One woman hides it in her, well, I won't say because there might be children present but let's just say it's only found when they force her to remove all her clothes.
Marusa-no onna. At your local Tsutaya or Hulu.

Peter Alexander Geranio said...

Thanks for the post. I will go see him next year when I move to Japan for a year of study!

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