How to make an asian (Japanese, Chinese, Korean) chop / hanko / signature seal / inkan / gago in / jitsu in / ginko in / mitome in
How to make an asian (Japanese, Chinese, Korean) chop / hanko / signature seal / inkan / gago in / jitsu in / ginko in / mitome in
How to make an asian (Japanese, Chinese, Korean) chop / hanko / signature seal / inkan / gago in / jitsu in / ginko in / mitome in
Think about all the times you use a signature. Checks,
letters, artwork...they all bear your unique signature.
Now, imagine a culture in which everyone feels that a signature can be easily forged.
That culture is Asia. Specifically, it's China, Korea, and Japan.
That's also true for old Europe, where signet rings and wax seals were commonplace and literacy was uncommon. The wax seals not only guaranteed the privacy of a letter...they also guaranteed its authenticity. For example, if you watch the movie "Elizabeth", you can see the main character signing one document with something that looks like a large brass candlestick-holder, which she presses into hot liquid wax. Even today, in America and Europe, many fancy government and bank documents are finalized with an official seal...usually one that creates a bas-relief pattern of dents and bumps in the paper.
In a more common setting, every library and office will use a rubber stamp to show that documents or books are received, processed, and checked out.
Asian stamps are almost always roughly finger-sized, made from stone, wood, plastic, or (rarely) rubber, and pressed into mudlike red ink (or cheap Western-style stamp pads) before being pressed onto a page. Their sizes, shapes, and style of design are usually dictated by function, and the rules can be rigid or lax, depending on what the stamp will be used for.
For example, a jitsu-in from Japan is usually larger than a thumb, and uses the Japanese person's complete name, usually written in an ancient script with uniform line-widths. On the other hand, a Japanese gago-in, used to sign art, could contain the artist's nickname, or a favorite saying, or even a picture.
Assuming you're a foreigner, you'll find that the usual rules don't fit your situation. In Japan, this means a loosening of the usual rules. For a ginko in (used at a bank), you can get awaywith part of your name, initials, using ABCs or katakana or any of the other scripts.... almost anything.
One of my ginko in, for example, uses only my initials, in old European calligraphic Bible lettering, while another of my ginko-in has only my family name, laid out like the Coca Cola™ logo.
So, being a foreigner, you can almost always slip the bonds of convention about the design on your stamp.
The two areas where you should be most attentive to the rules are
For those very formal "jitsuin" stamps, it'd be best if you let a professional make the stamp rather than try to make it yourself.
If you allow a business partner to suggest a favorite chop-maker,
you'll be paying that partner a compliment by placing great confidence in his judgement.
Regarding the size of a chop, I've jotted down a short summary of the various kinds of stamps used in Japan, and a quick note about whether it's an absolute necessity for life in Japan.
Read through it, and take its suggestions very seriously.
Anyway... making a chop in the traditional asian way is hard work: there are special hand-tools tools and techniques used to give the chop a traditional, authentic look... or darned expensive laser-cutting machines to do mass-production work. Assuming you don't want to try either of those methods, you can follow my instructions below to make your own stamp. It's easy, cheap, and alot of fun. Try it ! And, if you do it even passably well, you'll get alot of compliments, because there's a certain mystique surrounding their manufacture... sort of like the mystique a Westerner would attribute to fine calligraphy, or the printing-- or forging--of money.
~~ Sethness, Hiroshima, Japan, 2003.9.11
|JAPANESE NAME||USE||RECOMMENDED SIZE||COMMENTS|
Function: Signing (or merely decorating) art & letters
Gago in have almost no rules. They can be any size, literally, from barely-visible to palm-of-your-hand size. Their shape can be square, rectangular, circular, oval, or a naturally flowing irregular somewhat-oval shape. Lettering styles can be ABCs, kanji, katakana, hiragana, Egyptian heiroglyphics... anything's OK.
When signing and decorating art, the placement of the signature seems almost random, but actually follows a certain aesthetic sense about balancing the appearance of the page.
Unless you're an artist, these are strictly for fun. Therefore you don't absolutely NEED one. With a gago inany design's OK. You could write a pen-name on it, a favorite motto, a representation of your zodiac sign, the family crest, or ... well, ANYthing is OK, so just follow your own aesthetic sense.
In Japan, women's letters and informal art such as e tegami (handmade folksy picture postcards) are often signed with a gago in that's a single, easy-to-read, relaxed-style rendering of a single Hiragana character. As a foreigner, you may prefer to use ABCs or Katakana, the script reserved for foreign words. Formal art is usually signed with a larger, more complete name in any style, including ABCs.
These are NEVER mass-produced, unless they're simply decorative smiley-face and Hello Kitty™ style cartoon figures that a child might use in place of a doodle or a decorative sticker.
An artist's gago in is almost always stone, but gago in for other uses can be made from anything, including wood, rubber, & plastic.
Signing for postal deliveries, signing utility bill payments, signing internal company memos, confirming receipt of internal company mail, and other low-security everyday functions.
Make yours much smaller than an American penny, slightly smaller than an American dime. That's slightly smaller than a Philippine 25-centavo piece.
For adult men, use your pinky-finger's diameter as a "rule of thumb".
It MUST BE SMALLER than your boss's, and should be smaller than or equal to your senior co-worker's. To defy this rule would be a grave insult, like parking your new Porsche in the company parking lot next to his beaten-up old car.
Round and oval ones are very popular, but square & almost-square rectangular ones are acceptable.
Lettering style should be easy-to-read modern Kanji for Japanese and Chinese people. For foreigners in Japan, use ABCs or Katakana. For foreigners in Korea, use ABCs or similar-sounding Hangul. For foreigners in China, use ABCs or Chinese characters that approximate the sound of your name and which have few alternate pronunciations.
Do you need this ? Sure, for everyday life. You couldconceivably use your ginkoin as a hanko, but that's a little like wearing a tuxedo when you're at home alone.
These are usually cheap throw-away items, made from plastic, bamboo, or rubber. They are usually mass produced. If you have an asian name, you can almost certainly find an acceptable hanko at the local department store, five-and-dime shop, stationery store, & office supplystore.
There's no need for security, with these stamps. They're often kept in the entryway of a house in case the postman comes by, and in a lady's purse, and on/in an office-worker's desk in plain sight near the pencils, phone, family photo, & stapler.
(name to be inserted later)
Function: "Initialling" small changes in legal contracts, book galleys, and other frequently-amended documents.
|The white space around a document is often quite cramped, so the size of these inkans is extremely small. Yours should be something roughly the size of 2 vertically stacked capital Ms in 10 to 12 point type.||
If you're in Asia for frequent or important business contract negotiations or work in a Japanese office, you need one of these. Otherwise, you definitely don't need one.
These are medium-low-security items, unless the owner is a lawyer, business negotiator, or frequently involved in receiving or altering high-security documents.
In the photo above, notice the dark blue rounded rectangle which surrounds the dark red rectangular chop. This shows the maximum size that this particular bank will accept for a customer's ginko in. Also, notice that I have only put my family name, without a first name: in a ginko in this is often acceptable; in a jitsu in it is rarely or never acceptable.
|Function: Medium-high security transactions, like signing an initial contract with a utility company, or transactions at your local bank.||
Rules for Japanese names on these stamps are somewhat rigid (no nicknames, proper kanji spelling only, and so on), but foreigners can almost do as they please as long as they obey the size restrictions. Make an effort to put in your family name and first initial, though, just in case your banker is strict.
Size should be the size of an American penny, or slightly larger. Definitely, it should be SMALLER THAN YOUR BOSS's. It should be roughly the same length and width as an adult man's ring finger or middle finger.
Larger ones may be unacceptable at the bank. Smaller ones for women may get compliments like "oooh, cute !", but may be mistaken for inappropriate "hanko" sizes, and therefore rejected for use at the bank.
Round and oval ones are very popular, but square & almost-square rectangular ones are acceptable. My family name is fairly long, so I used one that was an elongated rectangle.
Lettering style should be complete kanji names or family names for Japanese people, written in antiquated scripts. Foreigners in Japan will have considerably more freedom ... almost anything is OK, but unless you have a compelling reason please avoid kanji (Chinese/Japanese ideograms) since that could be mistaken for a non-foreigner's name. Foreigners in Korea will find it very easy to describe their names in Hangul, and should use Hangul rather than ABCs. Foreigners in China should ask a local bank for their advice because individual banks' rules may vary widely.
Do you need this? Absolutely, if you'll be in Asia long enough to need a bank account or cell-phone. This is the most necessary of all the stamps used in Asia.
These are usually made from soft stone (e.g., marble, soapstone, and dirty jade), infrequently bamboo, and, rarely, plastic. They scratch and chip easily, so get a hard-shelled thumb-sized box with a soft interior to keep these stones safe.
These stamps are almost always custom-made by a professional and NEVER mass produced, but aren't necessarily handmade. The important thing is, each one should be unique. If your ginko in is an off-the-shelf mass-produced hanko, people think you're as foolish as a Westerner who signs his credit-card slips in block-print letters.
In Asia, you'll find a small stamp-maker's shop in the same part of town where you'd expect to find a small, independent jeweller or keymaker. These are NOT made in large chain-stores or department stores.
Since this is all a man needs to go to a bank and withdraw all your money, these stamps are usually hidden very carefully in an unexpected place in one's house.
||Function: Signing & finalizing very high security, formal occasions like marriage, contracts between business partners, & car/land/home purchases.||
--* THE DESIGN *--
The design MUST be red raised letters and a borderline on a clear background (In Japanese, shu bun), not clear letters on a raised red background (in Japanese, haku bun). This makes good sense, because a red background contains more raised red surface area and therefore requires alot more hand-pressure to make a good image when pressed onto paper. This also partly explains the preference for thin, spidery lines of uniform width: this is the style that ensures the best overall print.
The design should contain NO EXTRANEOUS PATTERNS OR DECORATIONS, except for a mandatory simple red borderline around the outside edge.
Avoid large areas of white space. Instead, try to make your design fill the available space, and make the white space between and within letters a uniform width. The obvious reason for this is, after making a print you want to check your work...and people who can't read your language want to check your work. If there are no large white spaces, then obviously the print is complete.
To follow tradition, the inkan's border and the names within should all use lines of uniform width, but this is not a firm rule, just a custom. This custom is an artistic preference, but also aids officials when they use a computer scanner to register your jitsu in design, since a combination of thin and thick lines may cause thin lines to become invisible while thick lines blur and dominate the design.
Remember that your jitsu inmay someday appear alongside a very traditional Japanese jitsu in, for which the rules are VERY VERY strict and in which the lines are 99.9% definitely going to be thin lines of uniform width. If your design is radically different or casual-looking, it could be embarrassing for you... like showing up to a formal business meeting in jeans and a tie-dyed T-shirt when everyone else is wearing neckties and blazers.
--* SIZE AND SHAPE*--
Size should be larger than an adult male's middle fingernail, with the maximum being slightly larger than an adult man's thumb-print. Americans can refer to the size of dimes and quarters as safe lower and upper maximums. In the case of a corporation's jitsu in, it may be massive-- as much as 7 to 10 cm (3 or 4 inches) square!
An individual's jitsu in is almost always square or round. Your name is probably best fitted to a rectangular, oval, or eliptical design, which is fairly acceptable, but please avoid any irregular, unbalanced shapes like egg-shape or blob-shaped. The compelling reason for this is, when people look at the print, they should be immediately able to confirm that nothing's missing.
--* A PERSON'S NAME *--
Follow the philosophy that the chop should as nearly as possible represent the user's true name and contain no distractions.
An individual's jitsu in should ideally contain the family name, and if possible the first name too. Further, it should be in ABCs if the owner's from a country that uses ABCs. However, there are plenty of variations to this guideline, and the rules vary from country to country and prefecture to prefecture. Therefore, if you're considering using something other than a full name in ABCs, check with your local city office to be SURE that your design is acceptable.
In Japan, you are often permitted to use the Japanese katakanaalphabet to phonetically represent your name. This is especially true if you used katakana in addition to ABCs when you spelled out your name on on your Japanese alien registration card form.
You can sometimes use a katakana first or last name, and abbreviate your other name to an initial in ABCs, as in M. Jones or Mary J.
Simply using initials for the whole name, as in L.B.J. for Lyndon B. Johnson, would be entirely unacceptable.
Incredibly, Some Japanese prefectures allow jitsu in that show only a first name (Madonna, John, Mary, Fred, Bill, Ludwig, Mark, Keiko) without a family name (Clinton, Jones, Smith, Beethoven, Twain, Watanabe). I wouldn't count on that leniency, though, unless you've first checked with the local city office and gotten official written approval.
--* COMPANY JITSU IN *--
Company jitsu in can be ENORMOUS, with the entire company name (no abbreviations) spelled out. A typical company jitsu incould be as small as your thumbnail or as large as the size of the palm of an adult's hand.
Company jitsu-in are usually square, but sometimes round, rectangular, or (rarely) irregularly shaped.
Company jitsu in often come with elaborate stands or boxes covered with green cloth and lined with red velvet.
These are precious, and are often kept in company or bank safes. An individual's jitsu in is often kept in a rarely-visited, very secret part of the house, or at a safe-deposit box at the bank.
All jitsu in are registered at the local city hall, and when used, often require a special certificate from that city hall, stating that the chop is genuine. Those certificates have an expiration date that can be as little as 2 to 4 weeks.
Materials for these are typically HARD stone, ivory, or infrequently soft stone like marble, soapstone, and dirty jade. If you're making one yourself, be aware that any asian characters must follow very rigid rules of style, and normal hand tools probably won't be sufficient to cut the harder stones. If at all possible, allow a professional to make your jitsu in.
Obviously each of these jitsu in are unique, not mass produced, and typically made by hand so the design can't be reproduced by forgers with access to similar machinery.
Inkan is a generic name, referring to all kinds of Japanese signature-stamps.
Hanko can refer to all kids of signature stamps, but usually refers to the low-security mitome in.
1. The Block
First, you'll need the finger-sized stone, bamboo, wood-block, or rubber that will eventually be your signature-stamp. Before choosing a size or material, be sure you understand the rules. Generally, a finger-sized square or round piece of marble or soapstone is a good choice. Let your first effort be a large one, since smaller stamps are compataritvely hard to carve. If you're in Asia, you can get a blank light-green stone from almost any general office-supply or art-supply store. High end calligraphy-supply stores will carry a wide variety of colorful stones, including matched sets, stones with their own boxes, and stones with decorative designs (usually traditional representations of animals) carved into their handles. In Japan, be prepared to spend about 500 yen for a commonplace light-green stone, or 300 yen for a finger-sized block of rubber, or 150 to 1500 yen for a very fancy stone from a high-end calligraphy-supplies store. (That last price varies widely depending on the size and kind of stone, and the quality of any carving that's already on the stone.)
If you're NOT in Asia, you'll need to be alot more creative about how you find this material. Don't consider clay or ceramics, and be VERY cautious if you decide to use some wood other than bamboo. Go for a close-grained, patternless wood that resists water, and looks good without a coating.
2. A Pencil and Eraser
3. A hand-sized mirror, preferably without a decorative, raised frame (figure C).
If you don't have something like that, then any mirror is OK, but you will also need something PERFECTLY flat (like a slab of glass) about the same size as your sandpaper.
4. A letter-sized sheet of sandpaper (preferably washable) in medium-fine grit, and another sheet with fine grit. (figure D)
5. "Shu-niku" (red ink)
You'll need something closely resembling Asia's traditional red
ink (called "shu niku", literally "red meat", in Japanese). Western office-supply "rubber stamp pads" have
that's a little too thin, but will be fairly OK if you're not too
about the quality of the end-result.
Acrylic paint is a little too thick, and can fill in all the gaps you've carefully carved, forcing even the best inkan to produce a big illegible blot.
The tone of red can vary from a medium-bright orange to a deep dark red, but burgundy-purple would be inappropriate. Scarlet, crimson, and dark red are the most common.
6. A toothbrush (figure A)
A toothbrush is used to clean the carving leftovers
leftover ink from the stamp.
Clean your stamp a little, before and after each use, and before each test-stamp as you carve it.
7. A carving (cutter) knife. (figure B)
The blade should be as thin as your pinky, and should
long and flat, with a tip that breaks off to reveal spare tips further
The knife handle should be flat, not round, so it won't twist in your hand, and be about 1.5 times the length of your middle finger.
A two-part lock on the handle is absolutely ESSENTIAL.
The two-part lock allows you to adjust the blade length, but prevents the blade from accidentally sliding in and out.
The sketch shows 2 black arrows, indicating that the two halves of the lock slide APART to make the blade immobile, and TOGETHER when the blade is being repositioned.
These restrictions seem very limiting, but are actually pretty easy to comply with.
In Japan or any Western art-supply, stationery store, or hardware/home improvement store, you can buy one of these for about 100 yen (1 to 3 US dollars).
Refer to the sketch here, and if it's possible, bring this sketch when you go shopping.
Sand the bottom of the block, to make it as flat and even as possible. Place your sandpaper atop a mirror or glass or other perfectly level, texture-less surface. Avoid using any part of the sandpaper that might have a fold or wrinkle. While sanding, use a circular motion making circles about twice the diameter of the chop Hold the chop near the bottom. Avoid tilting because that might cause the chop's bottom edges to become rounded.
Draw the design on the sanded bottom of the block.
I recommend non-traditional methods.
Traditionally, this part is done with a brush. The sanded bottom edge of the block is painted black with sumi (india ink...a charcoal-and-water-based ink). Then, the design is painted over the black, using a reddish-orange paint. Any corrections involve repainting in black and orange, so the process is quite tedious. The design may also look weird and off-balance, because orange-on-black looks very different from the final result, which will be red ink on white paper.
Instead, use a medium-sharp pencil and a fine-tipped eraser. Don't make the pencil VERY sharp because later, you've got to cut this design with a knife. So, thin lines NOW are a promise to do difficult carving LATER.
Notice that the design could be red raised letters with a raised red border ("shu bun", in Japanese) on a white, indented background. Alternatively, you could carve the letters as indentations ("haku bun", in Japanese), and let the "empty space" be red. Raised red letter style is more popular, but is harder to carve.
|Red Letters: Shu Bun||White Letters: Haku Bun|
Before making a design, try to determine which side of the block is widest, particularly if this is an irregular oval or only approximately a square. Let that widest part be the "bottom" of your design. This is good aesthetics, for the same reason that a Native American teepee or an igloo looks stable when the base is wide and the top is narrow, but looks somehow WRONG and unstable when the top is wider than the bottom.
Notice that the design is backward. It's written right-to-left. This is mirror-writing, like Leonardo da Vinci's diary. When you use the stamp, everything will look normal, but during this stage it looks backward. Mirror-writing can cause even the best artists to make small mistakes, so use the mirror frequently to check your design.
Learn the 3 steps in carving the bottom of a chop:
"Starter" line cut.
This is a thin scratch, intended merely to prevent your knife from sliding later, when you apply big power in step B. You may also want to make small "brake lines" at the end of long lines. These small scratches I call "brake lines" because make your blade come to a complete halt, even if the blade is sliding out of control with a lot of force behind it during steps B and C.
"Rough cut" line cut.
This is a deep, powerful cut, intended to make a clean cut on one side, and a ragged, broken edge on the other side. It's the first half of a V-shaped deep cut. Do't worry if it's not deep enough yet... you can always repeat steps B and C as often as you want, to make a gradually deeper V-shaped cut.
"Finishing cut" line cut.
Like step B, this is also a powerful cut, done to smooth out the ragged opposite side of the V-cut.
Be aware that even the tiniest scratches will show up when you use the chop, so you may have to sand the block again while carving to remove unwanted scratches.
For each cut, think about hand-position, and whether you should be PUSHING the blade or PULLING it.
At top-left, you can see a good grip for PUSHING the blade away from you. Notice the thumb is on the thin edge of the handle. The forefinger and middle finger are wrapped around the handle, pinching it so it can't twist out of control.
At bottom-left, you can see a good grip for PULLING the blade toward you. Notice the forefinger is on the far edge of the handle, not on the flat part.
The thumb & middle finger are on the handle's wide sides, securely pinching the handle.
At all times, keep your elbows pressed down on a tabletop and your wrists or heels of your hands pressed against the sides of the chop or against one-another. This posture prevents your arms from slipping. Use finger and wrist movemens only, while cutting the chop.
Think about how you will hold the block, during each cut.
Typically, your grip will shift, and the chop will turn around and around, each time you want to make a cut at an angle different from the angle of the cut you made last. Refer back to Step 3, and you'll realize that Step 3's parts B and C will require you to constantly turn the chop around as you attack alternate sides of each V-shaped cut.
There are a few general rules to follow:
Don't give the knife a human target. If the knife could slip off and cut your finger, then lower that finger until it's below the top of the chop.
Notice that in this sketch, the thumb is raised above the surface of the chop, but the forefinger is below the surface. Clearly, in this sketch, the carving-hand is going to do a PUSH cut AWAY from that protruding thumb.
The hand holding the chop is your "brake" hand. Your carving hand will always press up against the "brake" hand's thumb or forefinger, to get some support and increase your accuracy. Pictured at left,I've labeled a few different spots (in Japanese Katakana) on your brake hand where a carving-hand's thumb or forefinger can comfortably push.
When you're nearly finished, or think you might be finished, check your work. Check it both in the mirror, and by pressing the chop into your red ink and then onto paper atop a short stack of flat tissue or other papers, to get an idea of how the impression will look. You'll be surprised at how many small adjustments you'll want to make in cut-depth and line-width, before you're satisfied.
Remember to clean the chop with the toothbrush, and blow carving leftovers off the paper, before each sample-pressing. That dust
can lift your chop off the page, forcing the impression to have missing parts.
Also, any leftover pencil-markings will mix with your red ink, to make some lines darker. Dark lines look thinner than light lines, so as soon as you're confident that you don't need the pencil lines anymore, take them off with a tissue or pencil eraser.
It will help you to get a good impression from the stamp if you put the paper on top of glass or on top of a perfectly level, soft surface (like a calendar, a newspaper, a stack of unfolded, unwrinkled tissues, or other soft papers). Japanese offices will often have a leather pad for this purpose.
Press directly down from the top, and then lean EVER SO SLIGHTLY north-south-east-west. Your chop shouldn't actually tip; you're only applying enough pressure to each side to make clear impressions there, not enough to bring the far edge off the paper. Why? Well, if you exaggerate the leaning too much, some of the border-lines will look too wide, because the paper touched the SIDE of the stamp. If you DON'T lean a little, then if the chop or the table-surface aren't perfectly flat, the image you get will be imperfect.
Later, when you're done carving the block, consider carving a notch in the side or top of the chop that you can FEEL with your forefinger, so you have some confirmation that the block will be facing the right direction whenever you press it onto paper. Fill the notch with sumi (india ink) and then brush away the excess ink with a tissue. This dark filler makes the notch easy to see. If you feel artistic, you can make the notch into an elaborate picture, or carve some message or memorial statement. Jitsuin for important contracts and treaties often carry memorial messages describing the event or the user, even carry dates. Some jitsu in are so specific that they are used for a single event, then simply stored as important memorabilia in the same way that we trasure a used wedding dress, or the clothes and swords worn by signatories at the signing of a peace treaty.
Pictured below are some asian chops I made with just the tools mentioned here, and occasionally the file on a nailclipper. Note that some of the carvings on the tops and sides are traditional, like Chinese dragon-dogs; others are modern and look like the stone has been twisted a quarter-turn in the middle; still others are simple cats, fish, and so on. Let your own aesthetic sense be your guide. Two things to note, though: A) you can often buy amazingly cheap blank chop stones with Chinese dragons or dragon-dogs already carved into the top. B) No matter how much art and effort you put into the top and sides, Asians will still virtually ignore the top. Instead they'll look at the bottom, where the impression is made.