Sorry, yesterday's post was a little vague and I didn't explain about the family chop. I checked the dictionary and it is more commonly called the family seal or the family stamp. Maybe I got the phrase from a book about China I once read. At any rate, the term seal brings up a printed coat of arms on a British castle wall for me, and a family stamp... well I get the image of a roll of postal stamps or a stamped receipt. Actually it is all of the above.
Every person in Japan must have a hanko, or family chop (seal, stamp). One of the first things I did when I came to Japan thirty years ago was to go to a stamp store and have someone make me a stamp. It is necessary whenever any formal papers are being signed so without one you can't get a driver's liscense, open a bank account, even get your salary! It is the same thing as a signature in Western countries. Just as each person's signature is almost impossible to forge, each chop is original and therefore if you have it it is proof that you are the person making the transaction. Traditionally, all chops were hand carved on ivory or bone or stone and were quite intricate so that it would be impossible to make a replica. Nowadays you can buy them in any stationary store and they are carved on a block of acrylic. Some are even pre-carved (for all I know they may all be laser cut). The carving is almost always the Chinese characters for the family name, one or two characters, and when you open a new bank account or something you bring your chop and register it officially and thereafter whenever you do transactions you put your seal on the paper and they will check to see if it is the same chop or not. For extremely important papers, Tetsu has a big square stone one (big meaning about the size of his thumb) but for most things, like signing for the mailman, I use a little acrylic one about the size of my little finger.
To my American thinking, this system has a lot of holes in it. For one, what if you lose your chop? Well, everyone will get very upset and you'll have to sign a lot of new papers with a new chop, you'll have to apologize profusely and they'll try to verify who you are some other way. I've forgotten a chop once and so was asked to go buy a new one down the street. What good is that going to do? But they accepted it. Just in my own possession I see that I have four chops that I've had made at various times while I've lived here and thus another hole in the system. Which chop did I use for the dang transaction? They all look alike to me and I've gone to the post office or somewhere and chopped something and they'll tell me that I've used the wrong chop, try another one. Another question I have is, can the clerks really differenciate between the small nicks and flips in this miniscule little circle? Do they really examine the thing that closely? Isn't a signature more practical and more difficult to forge?
You can see in the picture the two different chops I pulled out of my purse and the marks they make. Looks the same to me. The little red disk is an ink pad that is kept near the entryway so that I can whip out my chop and get my packages (which I couldn't use yesterday because I didn't know where my bag was.) The little blue "purse" carries my chop (it gets all red and inky and could really mess up a handbag if I threw it in there by itself.). The little square "take along kit" was given to me by the post office and it has a mini ink pad, a place to put tissue to wipe the chop as well as a place for the chop itself.
Well, hope that was informative. Now I need to figure out which chop I took out of which container....