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  • Japanese: 落款 (rakkan); 印鑑 (inkan)

Japanese seals have traditionally served a role similar to signatures, on official documents, paintings, and works of calligraphy. They are typically carved from small blocks of stone, and dipped in vermillion ink to imprint a stylized form of the user's name, or another design, onto paper or silk.

In China

Seals using imagery for personal identification date back at least as far as the 5th century BCE.[1] Paper, invented in the 1st century BCE, became standard by the 3rd century CE, along with the use of red or vermillion seals.[2]

Imperial seals were exclusively made of precious materials such as gold and jade beginning in the Qin Dynasty.[3]

Personal seals in a Chinese- or Chinese-influenced style became common among merchants and other prominent individuals along the Silk Road as early as the Han Dynasty.[1]

In Japan

Seals most commonly employ white characters, the red filling the negative space. These are called hakubun'in (lit. "white characters seal"), while the reverse, in which the characters are imprinted directly in red, are called shubun'in (lit. "red characters seal").

In medieval Japan, the most formal way for a document to be signed was with a kaô, a stylized version of the author's signature. A black-ink seal (kokuin) was considered somewhat less formal than the kaô, and a vermillion or red-ink seal (shuin) somewhat less formal still.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Gallery labels, British Museum.[1]
  2. Gallery labels, Royal Ontario Museum.[2]
  3. Gallery labels, British Museum.[3]