Hanko signature system disrupts telework in Japan

By Maria Roldán

Tokyo, Apr 29 (efe-epa).- Telework, driven by the pandemic in many countries, does not end in Japan, where less than 20 percent of employees have adopted it and where it is hampered by traditional practices such as the use of Hanko stamps, a peculiar, widely used signature system.

The use of Hanko is being questioned in the current crisis, and Information Technology Minister Naokazu Takemoto, who also heads the government committee of “MPs for the Protection of Japanese Hanko Culture,” has proposed adopting an electronic e-seal, which would not be implemented until 2022.

Used as a personal and corporate signature system in many situations (opening a bank account, collecting certified letters, signing contracts or documents, payrolls), Hanko is one of the factors that force employees to continue going to the office.

“In my company, staff take turns. Working completely remotely is not possible. For security reasons, we do not use online banking. It was not believed that we would get to the current situation and suddenly changing procedures is not possible,” a worker who asked to be identified only by the last name told EFE.

Hattori, 72, works as an auditor at a non-ferrous metal products manufacturer in Tokyo and explains that his company is not digitized and the documents must be printed and sealed.

“Unless two people stamp their seal, no payments can be made,” said Hattori, who also pointed out that the corporate seal used in such cases “is a special, legally registered Hanko kept in a safe or locked “and which, therefore, is only accessible in the company.

Hattori’s is one of the many cases portrayed since Japan declared a state of sanitary emergency on Apr. 7 in Tokyo and six other prefectures (which later spread to the entire archipelago) due to the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

Given this reality, the Japanese Government has proposed a review of the use of Hanko, after realizing that it is not only necessary internally in companies, but also in the application documents for most of the aid implemented to promote the economy, makes the real application of telework difficult.

The idea is to create an institutionalized electronic version of the Hanko that proves that the company has created digital documents, although, according to government calculations, it would not come until 2022.

The head of the Japan Business Federation has branded Hanko as “nonsense” and said “they do not conform to the current digital age” and asked the executive to speed up procedures.

“There is no time for paperwork or stamps,” Hiroaki Nakanishi said at a press conference Monday. “The government must dramatically simplify administrative procedures.”

The growing interest in electronic stamps has led to the flourishing of initiatives such as Nagoya-based office supplies provider Shachihata, which operates an online service to stamp documents and has seen its new registrations grow from 13,500 in March to more than 50,000 in April.

Japan has allowed the digitization of corporate documents for more than 20 years, thanks to the Electronic Book and Document Preservation Act of 1998 and the Electronic Document Act of 2005, but although certain companies have already adopted a system of digital stamps, nothing works if its partners do not comply.

Although most workers can write reports and forms on their computers, the norm is to print and send them by e-mail, post or fax, something that is current and often mandatory in Japan, even among large corporations and local governments.

These bureaucratic obstacles have also been exposed on social networks in relation to the pandemic.

Several days ago, a pulmonologist, identified as @cutetanaka on Twitter, called on the government to change the system in which doctors have to fill out handwritten forms on coronavirus cases and send them by fax. EFE-EPA


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