When it comes to situations that require a signature in many parts of the world, Japan uses something called a hanko (判子) or inkan (印鑑) instead. These roughly 2 to 4-inch-long seals have a history dating back to 57 AD when they were first introduced from China.

Hankos are now used for everything in Japan -- from accepting packages to opening bank accounts. Typically, Japanese people only use their last names for their personal hanko seals, but they are infinitely customizable in other ways. So even if two Mr. Tanakas share the same surname characters, their personal seals can be very different.

In addition to customizing things that affect how the seal appears once stamped, you can also choose what your seal is made out of. This is where we start seeing the difference in prices. A standard one made from wood will cost around 2,000 to 3,000 yen, but upgrading to materials like titanium or lapis lazuli will cost up to tens of thousands of yen.

Since Japan is the land of all things kawaii, there are also hanko designs that are more fun and cutesy. In the past, there have been designs based on Pokémon characters, Sanrio characters, dogs and of course, cats. Cat lovers in particular are getting lucky with a new set of designs that have been released this month in preparation for International Cat Day on August 8th.

The base design for the Maruneko Hanko (literally “circle/round cat” hanko) features a miniature cat face that circles around and ends in a tiny cat tail. There are eight variations that represent the typical fur patterns you can find in cats.

Although the manufacturers of the cat seals warn that they might not be accepted as an official bank seal, they can still be used in less formal situations such as for circulating documents or accepting packages.

You can order your own Maruneko Hanko within Japan through the manufacturer’s Japanese website, for a starting price of 1,990 yen for the rubber seal type and 3,120 yen for the traditional inkan type.

By - Jen Laforteza.