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Hanko (stamp)

A Hanko (印鑑) is a Japanese signature stamp, similar to the Chinese chop. It is cylindrical in form and carved on one end with a distinctive pattern; when stamped in ink, it leaves the owner's imprint. In modern Japan most people have several; men's are generally larger than women's, and high-ranked executives generally have larger hanko than their subordinates. The most secure forms of hanko are used for banking and real estate deals, while off-the-shelf varieties are used for everyday tasks such as signing for delivery of packages. For a hanko to be official it must be registered at the local ward office.

The first evidence of writing in Japan is a hanko dating from 57 AD, made of solid gold and belonging to the Emperor. At first only the Emperor and his most trusted vassals held hanko; they were a symbol of the Emperor's authority. Noblemen began using their own personal hanko after 750, and Samurai began using them sometime in the Middle Ages; Samurai were permitted exclusive use of red ink. After modernization began in 1870, hanko finally came into general usage throughout Japanese society.

The increasing ease with which modern technology allows hanko fraud is beginning to cause some concern that the system will not be able to survive for much longer.

Signature stamps are still used widely in culture other than Japan. For instance, some Israeli companies still require stamps on official documents. Some say the relative size of the stamp also reflect the rank of the officers within the corporation.