You probably heard about the hanko - The personal seal is an important part of Japanese culture and everyday life. Although the importance of hankos in everyday Japanese culture is prevalent, a personalized seal is also a great gift idea or souvenir to bring back from Japan. Whether you want to surprise a loved one with their personal name stamp in Japanese letters, or you just want it as a memory for yourself, you can get one easily without paying a lot of money, and with limited Japanese ability. Where from you might ask? From a vending machine!
“Self Hanko Box”
MASA on Wikimedia Commons
A couple of years ago big orange hanko vending machines started popping up at various Don Quijote shops, with the shop even claiming it to be the world´s first machine of its kind. If you are in a major Japanese city you will most likely find a “Donki shop” because they are popular amongst tourists and locals alike– selling souvenirs, novelty items and whatever you might need at competitive prices.
A Don Quixote shop in Osaka
William He on Flickr
Whether hanko vending machines is an invention of theirs or not, the machines have become popular all over Japan. Most of them are very easy to maneuver and require little to no Japanese ability as they are user friendly and self explanatory.
How to Make the Hanko in the Self Machine
In this guide we will concentrate on the “SELF HANKO BOX” the vending machine from Don Quijote, because it can easily be located by simply going to one of their locations.
This machine can be spotted by its bright orange color, often located near the registry or in a corner.
Prices of hankos start as low as ¥500 and easy machine instructions enable you to make a hanko in a matter of minutes. Although these hankos are popular amongst tourists, they are also a good way to save money if you need a personal seal to start your life in Japan. Not only are they convenient in that you will have it minutes later, they also let you have full control of the design process.
The machine has several options for materials and fonts, ranging from very cheap to more expensive options. They offer the most common material types: Plastic, wood and bone.
The sizes range from 10.5 mm to 15mm. The size of 13.5 mm is a good size if you are to use your hanko for banking and document purposes. As a souvenir any size will be good, depending on your budget. Are you making hankos to several family members or friends? The smallest size in plastic is the cheapest and fastest option, taking around five minutes to make.
Once you have decided what material and size you want, you can choose the font you want your seal to be in. This specific machine has three different fonts to choose from: Tensho style, kisso style and Koin style.
All are very common hanko fonts, with the first two being extremely popular. You can preview all fonts with desired name on the screen, before inserting your money. This machine has an option of katakana, kanji and romanized characters. If you don't know how to transcribe your name to Japanese, several websites can do it for free.
Once you have typed the desired name in the chosen font, you will now be able to adjust the size of it, and then choose your material. Then you will insert your money. You'll quickly get your hanko piece from the machine and asked to insert it in the right side, where the machine will engrave your name on the stick. This process takes at least five minutes, depending on material type, but after that you are good to go with your own Japanese hanko!
Most 100 Yen shops like Daiso will have a variety of hanko in kanji for the most typical Japanese family names. These might not be suitable to bring as gifts for non-japanese, but Daiso and other 100 Yen shops have a huge variety of hanko cases and ink pads.
Scott Ashkenaz on Flickr
Why not get a Hello Kitty case for your brand new hanko? Imagine surprising a friend with a personal seal in a Hello Kitty case, or other famous anime characters. Buying your cases and ink pads at the 100 Yen shop is also a good way to save money, as most online and physical hanko shops will have them at a more expensive price tag. And going to a hanko vending machine will ensure you with a high quality hanko in various price classes, and also an exiting souvenir you can treasure for the rest of your life.