In the U.S., and most other countries, a signature is all that is needed to complete official documents. In some parts of Asia, including Japan, personal stamps called hanko are used instead. Hanko can be made from wood, silver, and other materials. They usually have a round or square (used more by businesses) shape. The stamp is engraved with the name of the person or company in hiragana, katakana, romaji, or kanji. It is then dipped into a red ink pad before being pressed onto documents. A handwritten signature can be used for some every day activities, like signing for a delivery package, but the space is very small since it is designed for hanko. For some things, only hanko is accepted.
I recently needed to get a hanko to renew my apartment lease. I went to a small hanko shop to have one made. Depending on the material and size chosen, hanko can be expensive. The worker wrote my name in katakana, used for foreign names, and it cost about ¥1,500 for the stamp alone. It was ready for pick up in a couple of days and once I received it, I had to take it to the city office to have it registered. I was given a card that shows ownership of my seal and prevents fraud.
There are other types of hanko that typically do not need to be registered; the ones used to sign for a package or those that are mainly bought as souvenirs. These hanko can be custom-made or purchased as is in practically any store throughout Japan. Pre-made hanko are engraved with common Japanese names and words. There is also a large selection of cases and ink pads for sale.
Daiso (¥100 shop)
Would you buy a hanko as a souvenir for yourself or someone you know?