by Michelle "Ms. Geek" Klein-Hass
In most of Asia, you don't just take a pen and sign stuff.
Instead, one uses a seal. In Japan, it's called an Inkan or a Hanko. In China, there are a myriad of seals used for many, many reasons, but the one most people use is called a Xinming Yin. In South Korea, it's called a Dojang. It can be very simple or very elaborate.
This is a very traditional one, carved out of stone with the stamper handle in the shape of a Chinese foo dog.
This is the imprint of the official seal of Japan, which is controlled and used by the current Emperor. The characters are archaic and derived from old Chinese.
Most people's inkan are not as elaborate, either in design or the image it stamps onto a piece of paper.
Gaijin living in Japan will eventually need to have an inkan made for them. Some have strictly Japanese characters, either Kanji or Kana, some have Roman letters, and some have a mixture of both.
I don't live in Japan, but I've been wanting to get one of these seals done for myself. This is super-simple: the surname I got at birth, Klein, in Katakana, read up-down and right-left. Stu-senpai figured out what my very un-Japanese name would render out as in Katakana for the bilingual credits roll that is at the end of Pray For Japan, so I'm using part of what he came up with. Ku-Ra-I-N. Klein.
With the amount of invasion of Japanese pop culture into Japanese life, it became quite apparent that Otaku variants on the traditional inkan would show up. Now there is an online shop that will make you an inkan with your favorite anime or manga character on it. For example, here's their take on our beloved Hetalia boys:
The store is called Itaindou, and currently it's only set up to order in Japanese, in Yen. Hopefully they will realize that yes, we crazy American Otaku also would like to order from them and will get things sorted for that soon. Hint: PayPal is your friend and will do your dollar-to-yen conversions for you at a fair exchange rate.
If you want something super-traditional and elegant, Henry Li from Blue Heron Arts in California will custom carve you a traditional seal. He also documents his work on video: here he is doing an inkan for a guy named Matt Fujimoto.
Yeah, I know it's a long video, but it was recorded in real time. Besides, watching a craftsperson doing traditional crafts is supposed to be very relaxing, so kick back for a few minutes and watch this guy at work.