Saturday, March 21, 2015

Japanese Hanko Signatures

Signatures in Japan are really interesting. When I was studying in Nagasaki I often had to fill out paperwork that had a little signature box, definitely not accommodating of a Western style signature. Most of the time they would tell us to just put our initials because the space is meant for a Japanese hanko (a small stamp with one or more kanji characters representing a person's name). Since most foreign names don't have corresponding kanji (they can be written in katakana the Japanese phonetic alphabet for foreign words, but that is usually just as long as Roman letters) it takes a bit of effort for a foreigner to get their own hanko for signing things.

The easiest way to do it is to have a native speaker help you look up the phonetic sounds that make up your name (either first or last, I don't think it matters since you will most likely have a unique name) or pick one or two characters that you like that work well together.

I'm not positive exactly what I will do for my hanko if I return to Japan but I did have a fun experience in my Japanese calligraphy class during which the teacher helped me pick out a kanji character to represent my name so I could sign my projects. My name is Kristi which is spelled ku-ri-su-te-i クリステイin Japanese but I go by Ke– ケー (pronounced Kay in English). I took on this nickname because in my Japanese classes both my husband and I have the same last name so he was called B– and I was called K–. Anyway, the teacher found that the character 恵 megumi (which means blessing) can also be pronounced Ke like my nickname. 

My teacher's example of how my kanji character can be written.
The first character is essentially the Japanese version of cursive.

My attempts at calligraphy with brush and ink.
I'm still trying to decide if I want to stick with just the one character (I can buy pre-made stamps with that character on it easily) or if I want to do something else, maybe with a second character that both my husband and I have? I love the idea of having control over my own name and how it is represented, it isn't often that a person has an opportunity like that so I'm going to make the most of it. 

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