How to sign your name in Japanese

With the exception of documents that are created specifically for foreigners, one does not "sign" official documents by using a ballpoint pen to write a signature. Instead, residents of Japan (foreign and citizens alike) use a "hanko" (判子) to sign their official name. Your hanko is basically a stamp with your name carved into it which is stamped onto documents in red ink. The use of hanko dates back over 1300 years, but did not become available for "common" use until 1870 as it was previously used only by the Samurai class. Japanese people can usually purchase a ready-made hanko since many Japanese names are common throughout the country (just like "Smith" or "Johnson" is in the US). Foreign residents, on the other hand, will need to have one custom order-made.

Hanko stamps are generally hand-made (or semi-hand-made) and all exhibit slight variation even for the same name. Additionally, each person has a slightly different style of stamping their impression (amount of pressure, tendency toward one side, etc). This makes a person's official stamp difficult to reproduce perfectly.

As a resident of Japan, my name may not be officially signed in Roman/Latin characters like in the US, but is instead signed in "katakana" (片仮名). Katakana are characters that were created to allow foreign words (like my name, for example) to fit into the language and to be phoneticized for simple pronunciation in Japanese. As such, my name is spelled and pronounced like this:

マ ("ma")
ウ ("ū")
ア ("ah")
ー (this character indicates a long-pronunciation of the previous vowel sound: "ah-h")

The photo above is a snapshot of my hanko. Mine is made of wood, but they can be made of various materials depending on personal taste and budget. When I went to the shop to order mine, I chose the simplest type of hanko available, and it cost roughly $110.00 USD. While browsing I saw some that were more ornamental and made of finer materials that cost upwards of $500.00. I went to a local hanko-shop in my Mom-and-Dad-in-law's neighborhood in far-suburban Sendai. It was their first order for a hanko with a non-Japanese name. (^_^)

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