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每日英語跟讀 Ep.850: Japan taking another look at ancient ‘seal’ custom to push telework 因應遠距工作 日本反省傳統「印鑑」文化

· 每日跟讀單元 Daily English

每日英語跟讀 Ep.850: Japan taking another look at ancient ‘seal’ custom to push telework

With efforts to promote telecommuting lagging despite the coronavirus crisis, Japan is taking another look at an ancient custom that stubbornly remains an analogue anomaly in an otherwise high-tech nation: the need to stamp documents with seals.


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called on citizens to stay at home, aiming for a 70 to 80 percent reduction in contact to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, but the goal has proved elusive.


“I want the relevant ministries to conduct necessary reviews rapidly,” Abe told a meeting of his economic and fiscal policy council last Monday, according to the Web site of his official residence. He singled out changes to the “system and custom of seals and submitting paperwork” as necessary for promoting remote work.


Abe’s government itself has also hindered social distancing efforts. The process of applying for government subsidies to prevent job losses during the current crisis has required small businesses to hand over papers in person at unemployment offices, exposing them to the risk of infection.


Last Monday, though, Abe instructed Cabinet ministers at a meeting of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy (CEFP), to overhaul regulations and identify inconvenient and unnecessary steps in administrative procedure such as a traditional seal or face-to-face paper submission — a prelude to scrapping or simplifying them eventually.


Usually a small cylinder carved with the characters for a person or company’s name, hanko or inkan are pressed on red ink pads and then stamped on documents as needed.


A custom originally imported from China over a thousand years ago, the use of hanko was formalized by Japan’s modern government in the mid-1800s, with citizens required to legally register one with their name to use on important papers and documents.


In business, they can be used on virtually everything, from contracts to applications and even just to show that everybody in an office has seen a particular memo.


Comments were not immediately obtainable from hanko maker associations, but many Japanese have expressed their frustration with the custom on social media.


“Just to complete my work, how many thousands of times — no, hundreds of thousands of times — have I had to press my hanko on papers?” wrote Twitter user “Mayumi_ma-na.”


“There are plenty of sectors that no longer rely on these seals! Why can’t we just sign things?”

“Using a seal is nonsense,” Hiroaki Nakanishi, head of the big business lobby Keidanren, said on the group’s YouTube channel. “Everything can be done with a signature or an electronic signature. Using a seal as proof of identity doesn’t fit with the current digital age,” he added. He suggested the seals themselves could be kept as works of art.



Apart from technical issues, almost half of respondents cited the difficulty managers face in assessing employee performance when they cannot see their team in person as a reason for avoiding remote work.


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