Help me design a cool hanko (seal)!
May 12, 2011 4:05 PM   Subscribe

As a thank-you for completing a special project for him, a client has offered to craft a hanko for me. Help?

I think it's pretty neat, and would like to take him up on it. It looks like my name, Michael, is often transliterated マイクル (ma i ku ru), in katakana. I'm going to ask the client for his input on it as well, but I thought I'd see what the hive mind thought. How would you do Michael, and how would you lay it out? Most pictures of seals that I've seen are four characters laid out in a square. A transliteration like this is okay, but I'd rather have something that conveys more of the essence of who I am, instead of just "this is how my first name would sound in Japanese."

He also mentioned Yojijukugo (sp?), which seems like it would be a good fit for this sort of thing, though I'm not sure if it's "proper" to use such on a seal or not. Would there be a way to convey some kind of relationship between:
raccoon (my animal totem)
collecting shiny things (told you raccoon was my animal totem)

Thanks for any input. :) I'm excited and this is something I would use a lot, just 'cause it's cool. I just don't want to be the guy with the "cool asian tattoo" that says asshole, y'know?
posted by xedrik to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Don't worry about it being "Proper"...after all you're not using it for legal documents, right? (I wanted one with my name in kanji so badly when I lived there, but I the one I got had my roman characters. I was crushed but all the Japanese people thought it was super cool. Go figure!)

I like the idea of a Yojijukugo, because you could have not so much a signature as a personal motto. There are a lot to pick from here (

You might want to look into something with a Tanuki. They're a Japanese 'raccoon dog' that show up in a lot of myths.
posted by Caravantea at 4:17 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Does your client only do Japanese characters? Maybe seeing how your name looks translated with Chinese characters would be another option for a more traditional look in the style calligraphy seals.
posted by cazoo at 4:29 PM on May 12, 2011

Ooh! Seconding the tanuki. From the wiki: Tanuki (狸 or タヌキ?) is the common Japanese name for the Japanese raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus). They have been part of Japanese folklore since ancient times. The legendary tanuki is reputed to be mischievous and jolly, a master of disguise and shapeshifting, but somewhat gullible and absent-minded.

Could you go with this?

(I have a scroll with a beautiful tanuki wearing a sugegasa (straw hat) wandering home under a full moon, a jar of sake on his arm. Can't find a picture of it in my files just now. Poo.)
posted by likeso at 4:36 PM on May 12, 2011

I think yojijukugo would be too much for a personal hanko. (Aren't the big square hanko with multiple characters only for official entities, like governments and companies? Those hexagonal racks of replacement hanko I've seen in Japan are only character, maybe stylized a bit to fit in the circle.) I'm guessing you're gaijin like me (else you'd already have one) -- my own hanko is just the katakana of the first syllable of my first name. (But I've never had an opportunity to use it, unfortunately.)
posted by Rash at 4:47 PM on May 12, 2011

There is more than one way to convert a name. When I was in Taiwan, I took a Chinese name that was easier to pronounce by Chinese speakers but still sounded very similar. Luckily, the people helping me were being very poetic about it and mine ended up being roughly 'bringer of light' (due to character selection) and still managed to be local-sounding.

I don't know Japanese but I'm sure there are sets of kanji characters that would serve your purpose. And nothing should stop you from selecting a completely different set of characters anyway. Many of my friends get hung up on using their Western names that they don't get creative when they get a chance to pick a new name altogether. Some sample English names adopted by people I met include 'Extra' and 'Onion'. Just find something pleasing to your ear that isn't an offensive phrase.
posted by just.good.enough at 5:29 PM on May 12, 2011

My hanko (I hope... I don't read Japanese) is a literal translation of the literal meaning of my name.

So, like, if your name were Rex, your hanko might be the japanese character for "king".*

Shit, now I don't know where to put my periods.
posted by cmoj at 7:09 PM on May 12, 2011

I'd go with your last name instead of your first.

As for the "Asian tattoo" thing - you aren't going to use this to stamp legal documents; these things (usually) look great and tend to be more like desk decorations - like having a minifigure or carving or something.

Mine looks like this, albeit that is my actual (full) Chinese name (in "old fashioned" script).
posted by porpoise at 7:43 PM on May 12, 2011

Great ideas, everyone! I like the idea of a Tanuki, I'll look into that!

likeso: WANT. That scroll sounds great!

Thanks for all the input!
posted by xedrik at 7:59 PM on May 12, 2011

Regarding the tanuki, there's something else that likeso left out: the male tanuki has the reputation of having the largest balls, proportionately speaking, of any animal. Tanuki statues are common in Japan, and they usually have prominent testicles or a huge scrotum.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:32 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, dear. Chocolate Pickle is absolutely right - I love the tanuki, and didn't immediately think of the scrotum issue. (Now, that's an interesting sentence.)

So I consulted my copy of Merrily Baird's Symbols of Japan. Here's the entry for the tanuki:

"The term tanuki, often improperly translated as badger, refers to the Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus Temminck, an animal of the dog family that resembles a raccoon but lacks ringed markings on its tail. Although the tanuki is wild, it invades domestic habitats, often stealing food, a practice that has fostered its reputation as a trickster.
The Japanese credit the tanuki with supernatural powers, but they rarely perceive the animal as dangerous. The tanuki is said to have the ability to transform itself into human form (especially in the guise of priests) and to assume the form of inanimate objects such as teakettles. These traditions provide the basis for the fairy-tales Crackling Mountain and The Magic Kettle. Further, the tanuki is said to enjoy sexual antics and to have a scrotum so large that it can be draped in imitation of various objects.
Art presemtations of the tanuki illustrate the animal's supernatural powers (often in ghost-story woodblock prints) and the bizarre use of its scrotum (especially in carvings). Folk-art carvings of the tanuki are common, with the animal usually portrayed with a pot belly."

Well. So there's that. In occasional exchanges with Japanese acquaintances, I remember there was fond laughter about the tanuki. But you don't want your hanko to seem like adolescent boasting - nor do you want to unknowingly sport the equivalent of the Raisan symbol for sexual interest..!

Japanese and/or Japanese-domiciled mefites: hope us?
posted by likeso at 3:27 AM on May 13, 2011

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