When I first arrived in Japan I was surprised at the number of things I could do without this stamp. We had been told that to open a bank account, buy a cellular phone, pay our bills and register for classes we would need to make an 印鑑 “inkan”, the engraved name stamp used as a signature in East Asian countries with a Chinese cultural heritage.
It turns out that in recent years, Japanese companies have become a lot more accommodating to foreigners and their handwriting. Japanese family names tend to be only between one and three characters long (the common Suzuki is 鈴木) and fit very easily onto that little wooden stamp. My name on the other hand becomes seven characters in Japanese, nearly impossible to write. Other foreign names have even more syllables, prompting the Japanese post office (which provides insurance plans and savings accounts), major telephone providers and government offices to accept signatures in lieu of the stamp.
Really though, if you’re coming to Japan wouldn’t you want to get one of these cool looking stamps instead of just using your boring old signature everywhere? That’s how I felt, and so my Japanese friends came to the rescue with a home-grown solution. Ateji!