The international students at AIU received their hanko/はんこ today. It’s the first piece of legal formality that will make our lives a little easier here. A hanko is a traditional seal that Japanese people use in place of a signature. It is useful for signing for packages in the post, and necessary for things like opening a bank account. It is a thin, long cylinder with a person’s family name carved into the end. Japanese hanko have the formal kanji of the family name–hanko for common names and kanji can be found in bulk in places like ¥100 stores. The international students were told to pick up to three characters for their seal. My first name conveniently translates into three characters in katakana, the alphabet for foreign words, so those were the ones I chose. メガン is my hanko. Not very original, but it’s a very cool thing to have and hold on to.
Most of the international students are looking forward to using their hanko because they want to get a phone and open a bank account. In the first place, money is a tricky thing here–coins are worth any where from $5 to 1¢, wiring money takes 3-4 days, travelers cheques bring nothing but questions, and the nearest international ATM can be found in the middle of a group of five, on the second floor of a mall that’s ten minutes away by a ¥150 bus ride. Not unsurprisingly, every few days another international student has a small panic-attack over money issues. In addition, you need a bank account and hanko to get a cell phone here, so most students are anxious for the process to get underway.
Japanese word of the day: okane / おかね (oh-kah-nay) money, also simply ‘kane’