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Traditional Seals

Japan's oldest inkan, or traditional seal, is a gold seal discovered in Kitakyushu and engraved with the characters “Kan no Wa no Na no Kokuo (King of the Na state of the Wa vassal of the Han Dynasty).” The seal is believed to have been bestowed upon the King of the ancient state of Na in Japan by Emperor Guangwu of the Han Dynasty. Personal seal use has been confirmed as early as the Heian Period, and the practice of affixing one’s seal was established in the Sengoku Period by the feudal lord Oda Nobanaga and others. With the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and the modernization of Japan, “inkan registration,” the registering of an official seal, was adopted as a way of verifying personal identity. It became common to affix this official inkan to important official documents and the like, forming the basis for the contemporary system of personal seal registration in Japan.

Inkan Seal Engraver

Mutsuko Ito

1963 After graduating high school, began studying inkan engraving under her father.
1985 Displayed her work for the first time under the auspices of the Edo Craftswomen Exhibition. Has since displayed work at various department store exhibits. Her projects with Edo Craftswomen Exhibition have garnered attention as her work has been featured on television and in newspapers and magazines.
1988 Assumed position of Chairwoman of the Edo Craftswomen Society
1996 Selected as Outstanding Skilled Worker in Taito Ward
2000 Devised a novelty seal made from natural wood (Utility Model No. 3071071)
2003 Published Natural Wood Is Fun: Making Seals with Twigs (Nichibou Publishers)
2004 Certified as an Outstanding Skilled Worker by the Governor of Tokyo (“Tokyo-meister”)


高校卒業後、父親の後を継いで、印章彫刻の道を歩み始めた伊藤さん。父から受け継いだ印刀を指先の一部のように使いこなし、何十年も同じように押せる印鑑作りに誇りを持ってきました。しかし時代の波で、印鑑の機械彫りが進んでいくと、ある疑問がわいてきます。印鑑は人生をゆるがす大切なものなのに、味気ないコピーでよいのだろうか…。 そんなとき、知り合いの箒職人から「昔は、お茶の枝で印鑑を作っていた」という話を聞き、「小枝印」のアイディアがひらめきました。小枝印は自然の木に、草花や動物の絵を彫り、その横に名前を入れたもので、銀行印としても使える印鑑。最初は、名前だけを彫っていましたが、知人に頼まれて絵柄を入れたものがお客さんの目に留まり、口コミで広がっていきました。世界に一つの印鑑と評判を呼び、今では、全国からオーダーが来るように。「今後、印鑑の需要は少なくなるかもしれないけれど、小枝印は時代にマッチして生き残っていくんじゃないかしら」。


Mutsuko Ito began her career in inkan seal engraving when she took up the craft from her father upon graduating high school. She can wield her seal-engraving knife as adeptly as if it were an extension of her fingers, and has taken pride in crafting seals that last for decades. However, the changing tides of time have seen machine-carved inkan fill the market, which has left her wondering: is an insipid carbon copy really good enough for something with such life-defining importance as an inkan?
It was around that time that a broom craftsman acquaintance mentioned to Ito that “They used to make inkan from twigs of tea shrubs,” and the idea for koeda-in, or “twig seals” came to her in a flash of inspiration. These twig seals would be made of natural wood, engraved with images of flora or fauna, and feature the bearer’s name. They could even be used as an official seal for bank transactions. At first, Ito engraved them only with the name of the bearer, but when a seal featuring an illustration—which she had done by special request from an acquaintance—caught the eye of a customer, word spread quickly. These one-of-a-kind twig seals became a hit, and now orders come in from all over the country. Says Ito, “Future demand for inkan may be on the decline, but there’s definitely a demand for twig seals in the modern era so they just might be able to stand the test of time. ”



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