Autumn Hanko Festival – a Celebration of Japanese Personal Seals



In the building of the Rikusato branch office of the Chamber of Commerce in Ichikawa-misato City, a huge showcase displays a huge “hanko” seal. The seal is a square shape 2 meters on a side, tipping the scales at 3 tons. Read on to find out about how this huge hanko brightens the town of Ichikawa-misato!


The four kanji character phrase “不動如山(ugo-ka-zaru-wa yama-no-gotoshi)”, meaning to be immovable as mountain, is engraved on the hanko in the showcase.

The phrase, drawn from a text by Sun Tzu, who was a military strategist of the ancient China, Takeda Shingen, an important samurai lord, used the phrase as the battle standard. He used to rule Kai Province (now Yamanashi Prefecture) and is well-known as an outstanding military strategist of the Sengoku period in the 16th century.

To my surprise, this huge hand carved seal needed the hands of 50 professional hanko engravers and other craft workers to build. It’s so big and heavy that it’s literally immovable like a mountain.

To Promote Local Industry: “Hanko” Seal Engraving

In November, there is a local event that takes place at a public primary school in the Rikusato area of Yamanashi Prefecture, hosted by the town government, the local chamber of commerce and a local industry association called the “六郷印章業連合組合(Rikusato Inshog-gyo Rengo Kumi-ai)” or Seal Engravers Guild of Rikusato. The Rikusato area has been famous for its seal “判子(hanko)” making industry since the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Now, personal seals made here accounts for more than 50% of the total seal production of the country. Japanese use these personal seals in place of signatures in their daily lives.

The seal making industry was established mainly as a result of the success in mining business in the same region. Until the 1980s, there was a quartz mine operated near the Rikusato area, whose economy relied mainly on the quartz crystal mining industry. By digging the ore of high quality quartz, workers gradually developed the skills and techniques of cutting and carving the precious stones in an artistic way. So, the skills led to the creation of a new industry: the engraving of personal “hanko” seals on quartz crystals. The government designated Traditional Craftworks List now includes the hand-carved personal seals made in Rikusato.

About the Autumn Festival

The festival serves as a good opportunity to gain publicity for the preservation of the local craftworks. For example, people can experience the process of engraving a seal by hand. Once starting to work on their own “hanko” seals with a pencil-sized chisel called “印刀(in-tou)” in their hands, participants, especially young kids, become so lost in the work of cutting grooves to create their favorite “hanko” designs.

Other than the experience event, there is a “mirror writing” competition that puts some individuals against each other in how readable their mirrored texts are when reflected on an actual mirror. Kids carry a small portable shrine with a bookshelf-sized “hanko” artwork on it, parading around the festival grounds. Some food stalls and souvenir shops create the fun festivity.

In the festival held some years ago, people created a big “pointillistic” picture by putting a number of personal “印鑑(in-kan)” seals on it. The Guinness World Record book lists the festival in the category of the “number of personal seals used in the creation of a personal seal painting”. I had never heard of such a category until I found the fact on the event homepage.

Funeral Ceremony for Hanko

Prior to the autumn festival, there is a town-organized “funeral ceremony” to mourn the “dead” hanko seals. In October, hanko seals which can’t be used any longer are gathered at a special site in the nearby park. They are cremated after a Shinto priest offers prayers and drinks for the “souls” of hanko. Local people have such a deep affection for hanko that they think it is part of their whole lives.

How to Get to the Autumn Festival

Kai-Iwama Station on the JR Minobu Line is the closest station to the festival site, which is within walking distance from the station. The Minobu Line connects Kofu, Yamanashi, and Fuji, Shizuoka. JR Central operates a limited express train service, the Wide View Fujikawa, which runs between Kofu Station and Shizuoka Station. Actually, Shizuoka Station is an interchange station with the high speed Tokaido Shinkansen Line. So come to Shizuoka Station by Shinkansen train and then take the Fujikawa express train from there. I think it’s the best way to get to the festival.


Near the town-run Rikusato Primary School, the site of the autumn festival, new spa facilities “Tsumugi-no-yu” have been built for visitors in and out of the town and become a popular tourist spot. Why don’t you drop by and enjoy bathing in natural hot spring baths and souvenir shopping?

All images courtesy of Yamanashi Tourism Organization

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Image courtesy of Tomomarusan

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Have two kids. Teach English at an “eikaiwa” school more than a decade Love cake.

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