Religion in Japan is a mix of Buddhist and Shinto traditions, so there’s some overlap between going to temples and shrines to offer prayers and ask for blessings. One clear division, though, is that Buddhist temples handle funerals, and so on Oct 19, a memorial service was held at Zenkokuji Temple in Tokyo’s Kagurazaka neighborhood.
The attendees, however, were not gathered to say goodbye to family members or friends, however, but to their personal seals.
Personal seals, called hanko or inkan in Japanese, are circular stamps used in place of a signature. Even now, many contracts in Japan aren’t considered legally binding until both parties stamp a hard copy of the document with their seal, and they’re also commonly used internally in Japanese offices to show approval or confirmation of document contents.
The personal seal funeral was organized by the TDM Telework Committee, a union of roughly 30 Japanese companies promoting changes to business norms to make remote work more feasible for Japanese professionals. While many people in Japan have transitioned to working from home since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s not at all unusual to be called into the office solely because your seal is required on a piece of paper. TDM sees this as both inefficient and an unnecessary health risk, and many of its member companies offer discounts to clients who’re willing to switch to digital contracts.
On the other hand, the funeral service, to which three IT companies sent representatives, sought to address the cultural/emotional attachment some may feel to the use of personal seals. As a long-respected aspect of Japanese business culture, and also a symbol of the bearer him or herself, many are reluctant to simply throw their personal seal away, and so the Zenkokuji memorial, which included the chanting of sutras by a monk, was a way to part with their seals while giving them the dignity they deserve.
The funeral comes on the heels of a new push from the Japanese government to phase out personal seals, fax machines, and other vestiges of the physical media-dependent workplace. However, TDM head Fumihiro Naganuma wanted to make it clear that he’s not trying to abolish personal seals entirely, saying “I believe the personal seal itself is an important aspect of culture, so they should not be simply thrown away. Instead, we should reevaluate whether or not they are truly necessary. The important thing is for all of us to rethink what may be pointless parts of our business processes.”
It’s also worth noting that the funeral ceremony was specifically for office-use personal seals, and not a call for people to throw out their personal-use personal seals, so if you recently bought a Pikachu or Gundam hanko for yourself, you should still have plenty of chances to use it.
Sources: NHK News Web, FNN Prime Online, TDM Telework Committee Facebook page
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