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Fukuoka City Became Japan’s First Hanko-free City

Some of you might be able to recall the opening scene of Kurosawa’s film ‘Ikiru’ in which a local civil servant sitting around a pile of documents is affixing a seal to a document one after another without carefully reviewing them. In the film, the scene is symbolically used to highlight the bureaucracy in a municipal office.

The Government, whose new leader was changed to Yoshihide Suga in September, appears ready to take drastic measures to reform administrative procedures. One of them is hanko-free in the context of digitalization.

Hanko itself is not relevant to bureaucracy. It was developed as the means of identity verification and confirmation of intention, but the means are becoming the purpose. For instance, those who’ve forgotten to bring their hanko at various situations might have to return to pick them up even if there are other means to verify their identity and/or confirm their intention.

Hanko is also deemed as an obstacle for digitalization. During the state of emergency this year, it became a topic that many employees who were remotely working had to attend their offices only to use a corporate hanko to complete documents. Many municipal offices procedures also require personal hanko to complete the process, which is one of the causes that bar local governments from moving their services online.

Regulations

The regulations on the formality of exchanging contracts referring to seals’ types and functions (i.e., hanko) are covered in my previous articles below.

Exchanging contracts in Japan: seals and signatures (1)
Exchanging contracts in Japan: seals and signatures (2)

In a nutshell, the law generally requires no formality to conclude a contract, and it, therefore, doesn’t matter if a seal affixes an agreement. The same applies to any document other than contracts, including invoice, receipt, and application form. Therefore, in most cases, hanko-free can be achieved without any law reform.

Meanwhile, jitsu-in (registered seal), which is typically used for a significant transaction such as the sale of real estate, has legal grounds and cannot be abolished without a significant law reform. The hanko-free policy doesn’t cover jitsu-in for now.

Fukuoka City achieved hanko-free as the first city in Japan.

Fukuoka City had been promoting hanko-free at the local government level on its initiative. On 28 September, immediately after the Government announced its hanko-free policy, Fukuoka City issued a press release declaring that it’d have achieved hanko-free for all their administrative documents, which amounts to 3,800 types of documents, by the end of the month, except 900 types of documents governed by the national law.

The PR’s timing was clever as it was then featured in the national news, and the city was able to promote itself as the most progressive city in that field.

Hanko’s future

Hanko has a long history in Japan. I have several hankos that have been collected throughout my life. For instance, when I graduated from the Secondary School, the school gave each of us a personal hanko in commemoration of our graduation, which I am still using for everyday purposes. Or, I visited Xi’an, China, in 2007, where I bought a handmade hanko from a street vendor for RMB15 (approx. JPY200). The vendor carved my name in Kanji then and there. I am still using it on my seasonal letters to be sent to older people who are more comfortable with paper.

I personally love hanko and Kanji on its face. However, it will inevitably be less used in the future. Its usage might be changed for more aesthetic purposes.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure that the information on this article is accurate at the time of posting, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ. If you do require advice or wish to find out more about the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

Text by: Atty. Atsushi Miyake of Miyake Law, November 2020.
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Category
Business
Fukuoka City
Published: Nov 17, 2020 / Last Updated: Nov 17, 2020

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