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Japanese seal system hampering telework

thomas

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Inkan, fax, and paper documents: the Coronavirus pandemic shows that, while some progress has been made, many Japanese companies are hopelessly lagging behind in the adoption of modern office solutions and IT technology.

"I need to physically be in the office because I need to submit paper documents and stamp them," Mizuho, who works at an IT firm in Tokyo, told AFP. Even though her company is tech-savvy in other ways, hanko are still the norm there, said Mizuho, who asked to be identified by her first name only. "We use Microsoft software as a communication tool... but I cannot work from home as long as the paper and hanko culture exists," she said. She worries that her firm isn't taking the pandemic seriously -- despite an employee in their building contracting the virus. "I feel unspoken pressure to be in the office," she added. [...]

Most Japanese adults have a personal seal, carved with their name in Chinese characters, and used in place of a signature to authenticate documents in every aspect of life -- from opening a bank account or acknowledging receipt of registered mail. Some major companies, including big banks, have begun phasing out their use. But they remain popular, along with other practices seen as outdated in other major economies, including the use of fax machines and a focus on paper rather than digital documents. A recent survey by the Japan Association for Chief Financial Officers (JACFO) showed 40 per cent of companies that introduced telework said workers ended up going to the office, primarily because they had to handle paper documents and stamp things with hanko. "There is a conservative culture where companies don't want to change how they work," said Hiroshi Yaguchi of JACFO.

 

nice gaijin

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As someone who serves that particular industry...
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I'm reaching out to my business contacts to see if there's some way to move the seal system into the digital realm, like we've done with digital signatures. I remember when I worked for the state we had to deal with this migration to online forms butting up against the concept of a "wet signature," but ultimately it comes down to meeting legal requirements and how much wiggle room there is in the definition of endorsement. Nowadays some sites just ask you to check a box and/or type your name, others have you "sign" with the mouse or touchscreen. Eventually, the requirements for approval do need to relax and evolve to meet the changing demands of technology and how people work.

So, how to make solutions for this? Here are my initial thoughts:
  1. Just give people images of their inkan to attach to files to "stamp" them.
    • Positives: easy, can be done right now without any technical development
    • Negatives: not secure, easy to impersonate
  2. Create an encrypted or custom-watermarked image of their inkan design
    • Positives: relatively easy, watermarks can be cross-referenced to ensure accurate records and reduce the possibility of impersonation
    • Negatives: requires some software development
  3. App that uses camera to scan hanko bottom
    • Positives: relatively easy with some machine learning, still requires a physical hanko so it's more secure
    • Negatives: requires some technical development (software only)
  4. Develop pressure-sensitive "stamping pad," to replicate affixing a seal to a digital document
    • Positives: closest analogue to the current physical process of stamping, most secure
    • Negatives: requires some technical development (both hardware and software), delayed rollout...
After reading the full article and doing a little research, I see that Docusign and Shachihata are already pursuing something like #2, but it seems like even for some workers for whom digital stamping is an option, there is still pressure to be physically present at work and use paper documents. This is a problem that cuts to the heart of Japanese work culture, and like they said at the end of the article, unless there are standing orders to stay at home for public safety, it'll be hard to keep people out of the office.

edit: whoops this got posted before it was completed...
 
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Lothor

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It should be straightforward enough to image an inkan and modify commonly used software so that there is an Insert Inkan in the Insert options, which requires a password from its owner every time it is used. Or has my non-tech mind completely overlooked something?
 
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thomas

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Mr Kono, formerly Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence, and now Minister for Administrative Reform and Regulatory Reform, has declared war on both, the fax machine, and the hanko. We wish him all the best in this Herculean task. He certainly made headlines:






And the hanko lobby is organising its resistance:

 

Petaris

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It should be straightforward enough to image an inkan and modify commonly used software so that there is an Insert Inkan in the Insert options, which requires a password from its owner every time it is used. Or has my non-tech mind completely overlooked something?

Or just use the "Insert Signature" that already exists and asks for a password. You see this in most PDF readers/form fillers already. The signature is just an image so it could be a signature or an inkan.
 

nedkelly

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Signatures, Hanko and paper copy may hold up rapid communication. However, we should also be aware of the danger of lost data caused by digital obsolescence with hardware and software. Everything important should be printed or have an original hard copy.
 

Petaris

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Signatures, Hanko and paper copy may hold up rapid communication. However, we should also be aware of the danger of lost data caused by digital obsolescence with hardware and software. Everything important should be printed or have an original hard copy.
I agree, however physical copies have their own issues. They can degrade in other ways. For example, look at historical documents and film archives. Both require far more work and on-going maintenance costs as you can't just throw then in a drawer or put them on a shelf and forget about them. Some of this has to do with the medium that they were created on, paper with high acid content that yellows to a point where it is difficult to read and may disintegrate if handled., film with acetate that dries out and fades and becomes too brittle to handle.
 
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