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My Japanese Hanko Seal

An interesting approach to signatures

P3639I love Asian art and have been collecting woodblock prints for a few years from wonderful artists like Hajime Namiki. One of the things I was always interested in was the small red seal used on each print and what it signified. Turns out this seal is called a Hanko (判子) in Japanese (or a Chop in Chinese) and is a way for a person to sign a document. There are several versions of a Hanko – some very simple like mine, and others that need to be registered and are used for things like opening bank accounts and signing important documents like a mortgage.

To make a Hanko for your name there are a few approaches you can take. One way is to look at the origin of your western name and find kanji characters that are similar in meaning. My first name is Stuart, a little digging on wikipedia gave me the following:

Stuart is a traditionally masculine given name as well as a surname. It is the French form of the surname Stewart. The French form of the surname was brought to Scotland from France by Mary Stuart(Mary Queen of Scots), in the 16th century. The surname Stewart is an occupational name for the administrative official of an estate. The Old English word is composed of the elements stig, meaning “house(hold)”; and weard, meaning “guardian”. In pre-conquest times, a steward was an officer who controlled the domestic affairs of a household, especially of a royal household.

So that was my first approach based on the word Steward, and looking at translations I arrived at the Kanji 家令 which are pronounced ka-rei, or in Katakana カレイ which just so happens to mean flounder…as in the fish. You can see why this can get tricky. Nobody wants a flounder stamp, well maybe this guy.

The second way is to try and get your western name as close in pronunciation as possible to Japanese or Chinese. For this approach I went with “su-chi-u-a-to” or in Katakanaスチュアートand then looked for Kanji with those pronunciations that didn’t mean something odd like “Toilet-paint-flower-toe” – luckily there are a lot of Kanji for each and I settled on 寿忠明富 which mean longevity, loyalty, bright, and rich. I picked those as they do loosely tie back to the idea of an old name for a loyal servant of a rich royal family and avoid the whole flounder issue.

5rHzhjvINext was finding someone to make the stamp – and at first I thought this would involve an overseas website and a roll of the dice on them getting it right. Luckily while doing some research I came across Mr. Henry Li on YouTube. Mr. Li is an incredible calligrapher, painter and as luck would have it–seal carver. Mr. Li runs a website at where he provides a variety of art supplies and his carving service. You start by picking your stone (soapstone is the usual material, with many variations available). Once you have picked your stone and carving service you will also want to decide on an ink paste. There are two versions available, the student paste at about $4 which is rather dull in color and opacity or the more high quality Cinnabar paste at $40 which contains an expensive fiber base and is much more vibrant and archival. Mr. Li and I discussed my choice of Kanji and he thought it was good, so he worked on a modified version of the Kanji characters called Tensho seal script. Once approved Mr. Li films the carving process along with how the design is transferred to the stone and how he keeps a record of each stone he carves – he then posts it to YouTube which is such a fantastic bonus.  The upside to all of this is that he is located in Los Angeles, CA!

If you think the process above may be a bit daunting Mr. Li can also help you with coming up with a design and explain the meaning of each symbol in your seal. Below is the video of my seal being carved by Mr. Li – so amazing to watch as it comes to life.

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