The Hanko system
August 14, 2006 11:06 PM   Subscribe

Matsushita Shuji writes about the latest effort to prop up the Hanko system in Japan.
posted by tellurian (23 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd never heard of the Hanko system before. Looks like the digital age spells the end of it.
posted by tellurian at 11:06 PM on August 14, 2006

The combination thing looks pretty intresting.
posted by delmoi at 11:19 PM on August 14, 2006

I live in Japan and use my hanko with some frequency. The combination thing is probably a good idea. Wonder if it'll catch on?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:27 PM on August 14, 2006

Hmm, having trouble accessing that first link, and very curious about these new attempts. Combination thing?

But ditto, I use mine frequently, as does everyone else around here.
posted by dreamsign at 11:53 PM on August 14, 2006

Hmmmm, the hanko has a potential advantage over pretty much all the other systems, which is that you can stuff a mechanism into the hanko. Like the 64-combination hanko, but more sophisticated. Tiny microprocessors capable of public-key crypto are cheap; if you could figure out a good way to actuate (say) 320 small pins around the outside of the hanko, then the stamp could contain a digitally-signed timestamp. It'd need to be verified by computer, of course, but that wouldn't be difficult with modern cheap webcam type optics.

You'd need to deal with the fact that most people verifying the hanko will assume that the pattern should be the same each time, instead of varying in a specific, hard-to-predict way. This is probably the weakest part of the idea...
posted by hattifattener at 11:59 PM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

For people who have a hard time getting to the first link:
Well, somebody is trying to prop up this basically hopeless hanko system. Mitsubishi Pencil Co. of Tokyo has released a hanko with incorporated security function, Dial Bank Hanko.
This stainless steel hanko has two cylindrical dials in its shaft, yes, not unlike the bicycle number lock. Each dial has eight positions. Altogether, there are 64 combinations. Each combination forms its own image pattern on the circular fringe part of hanko.
The author goes on to point out that if you forget to randomize the dials after using the hanko, then it does you no good.
posted by hattifattener at 12:04 AM on August 15, 2006

I lived in Japan 1992-2000 and never had need for a hanko.

Then again, I was just a lowly peon in the scheme of things and didn't have any major financial things going down.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:47 AM on August 15, 2006

my friend's blog post on his hanko
posted by bokeh at 12:49 AM on August 15, 2006

Actually, I have found that recently, signatures are fine for most every day life, at least here in the big city. I have two hankos, but I hardly ever use them anymore. The only thing you can't do without a hanko is bank stuff and real estate stuff. And the one you use for banking doesn't even have to be your "real" one, the one registered at the City Office, as long as you use the same one every time. I even got married without one! How did she know she wasn't marrying someone else?
posted by donkeymon at 1:15 AM on August 15, 2006

I use a signature over a hanko here too. Only one place ever insisted on it - which in retrospect was silly because I just made one up and it wasn't even registered as a proper hanko. Yet I stamped a work contract with it and opened a bank account too.
posted by gomichild at 1:41 AM on August 15, 2006

I know someone who worked at Yamaichi Securities, one of Japan's big 4 firms until it went under about 10 years ago because they guaranteed profits to their corporate clients and couldn't keep hiding the massive losses in overseas shell companies any longer. Anyway, they used to simply slap a piece of scotch tape over a hanko mark, rub it real hard, and then transfer the seal to another document, rub it in, and voila!
posted by planetkyoto at 2:05 AM on August 15, 2006

Dealing with large corporate clients in Japan seems to pretty much require getting one. Getting an invoice paid can be an incredible exercise in frustration if it isn't exactly as their accounting department expects it to appear. Also there seems to be very few corporate credit cards in Japan, so almost everyone wants an invoice - and to pay by bank wire. All of which wants a hanko. Good luck trying to find the right ink if you're in North America too.
posted by mock at 2:08 AM on August 15, 2006

Unfortunately, I don't have too many large corporate clients. But those are exactly the kind of places that would still require it to do anything. Maybe this is a part of why the economy is so crappy.
posted by donkeymon at 4:11 AM on August 15, 2006

Wait, how does this work against the stated threat?

Does the bank have a record of all 64 position, and do they ask for, say 'number 37?'

Otherwise, the defense completely fails. If the defense is "This device has 1 valid mark, and 63 invalid marks", how does it defend against "Thief copies valid mark from passbook, prints onto deposit slip, and withdraws cash?" He doesn't have the hanko, so not setting it correctly isn't an issue unless the bank is asking for a rekey.

Unless the valid mark changes per use, there's little security here whatsoever. It does reduce the threat of a lost hanko, but if you lose the hanko, you'd better report it fast, or it will take 64 tries max for them to find the valid hanko.

It doesn't help at all with a stolen hanko, if you standing there and the teller wants hanko position 12, and you have, you say "of course', dial, and stamp.

Indeed, what is the secure object? I'd hope not the stamp itself? It would be better if you had to use the hanko in front of the teller.

I must be missing something here -- I just don't see how this thing does anything real to fix the problem of the image of the hanko being valid.
posted by eriko at 5:38 AM on August 15, 2006

As someone who has never encountered or had to deal with a hanko before, I find these comments most confusing. After I read this story I did a bit of Googling with regard to fraud and hankos, but there was very little actual reportage of events, just concern. It seems that the concern is greater than the actuality. There are articles as far back as 1999 about the demise of the system, but here we are in 2006 and it's still going strong. The system works but is not consistently applied, according to commenters here (8 years living there and never needed one, opened a bank account as well as getting married without one, used an unregistered one for work and banking, used a primitive method of falsifying a hanko, trouble finding the ink out side of Japan.) Sounds broken to me, with or without the possibilites of fraud that modern scanning and replication provide.
posted by tellurian at 5:47 AM on August 15, 2006

They've already kinda tried to solve this by doing a national identity card, but they mostly got it really wrong and there's all sorts of funny politics being played between the prefecture governments and the people behind jyukinet. I was there when the government gave us the option of canceling ejovi's talk on breaking jyukinet or getting in unspecified legal trouble. As a North American doing business in Japan, I'd say the reason the economy is crappy is an overabundance of politics making it hard to take risks.
posted by mock at 5:48 AM on August 15, 2006

Introducing a national identity card is always going to be hard. We have a similar situation in Australia.
Can you do anything right in terms of introducing a national identity card to a nation that has never had one? I don't think so. Even though the possibilities of enhancing national security and bringing to justice lawbreakers might be attractive, the public's concern regarding misuse of information and the invasion of privacy will defeat it. In a nutshell - Those governments that have it: won't give it up. Those governments that don't have it: the people won't give it to them (unless it's obtained by subterfuge, always a possibility).
posted by tellurian at 7:13 AM on August 15, 2006

Three years there, dealings galore with big corporate clients/sponsors, two real estate transactions, never needed nor had one. Go figure.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:16 AM on August 15, 2006

And FWIW, got married in Korea without having one *there* either. ; . )
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:17 AM on August 15, 2006

I lived for two years in Japan and held three accounts at three different banks without ever being asked for my chop (I actually did have one cut, in Hong Kong, just for grins).

Eriko: You seem to grasp the nub of the problem with the "dial bank hanko": essentially it acts like a combination lock (63 invalid combinations, 1 valid one), but if you aren't actually asked to make your chop in front of a bank teller, you could get away with the scanned-image trick. Or if the combination hasn't been scrambled (Mitsubishi Pencil [no relation to the Mitsubishi conglomerate] could fix this by having a spring-loaded resetter that is triggered after each impression). Or if you have the luxury of trying all 64 combinations at your leisure.
posted by adamrice at 7:36 AM on August 15, 2006

I lived in Japan from 1997 to 1998, and I did need a hanko to enroll in school and open a bank account. I had to custom-order it, with my surname in katakana. Unfortunately, I think I've lost it since.

I also amused myself by buying cheapo hankos at the 100-yen store, with ludicrously common names like Tanaka and Honda.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:45 AM on August 15, 2006

I seriously doubt the combination hanko will gain popularity since I'm seeing a daily increase in signature usage here in our little corner of the central Japan rice fields. Our registered katakana hankos remain necessary for opening all bank and securities accounts, large purchases (we needed them for each of our used cars, our home...and the associated home loan) and my husband must use one daily to mark the time cards at the university, but the post office (once the stickler) now allows anyone to sign for packages, and the banks don't all require the hanko you use to be registered.

Honestly, we thought this system would have been retired by now, but what do we know? When we first moved here from California and encountered the "loose socks" which make the schoolgirls resemble clydesdales, we gave the unfortunate fashion trend a year...and that insanity is still going strong, 13 years later....
posted by squasha at 9:02 AM on August 15, 2006

Maybe where you are squasha but in Kanto the loose socks trend has been out for at least two years.... we are still in the tight blue mid calf phase here.

For the locals though it is still very much a hanko world - except when you get to crdeit/debit cards which are always signed on the back and use a signature rather than a hanko.
posted by gomichild at 10:08 AM on August 15, 2006

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