Seal Your Fate
- So how long have you been carving these seals
Abe is a master of understatement. Anyone who can so casually announce
with a dismissive tone that he has devoted the vast majority of his
time on this earth to hand-carving intricate kanji characters
backwards deserves considerable kudos.
The use of inkan began in the year 701, when the practice was introduced from China. The origins of the seal date back further, as evidence has been unearthed of Egyptian seals dating back as far as 3,000 B.C. .In feudal Japan, your seal went some way to indicating your social status. A square inkan meant that you were from a samurai family, an oval shaped seal was the mark of kosakunin - tenant farmers, whereas a round design was used by the shomin, the masses. Nowadays, use of the square seal has been taken up by the offices of officials, such as a city hall or government department.
There are a myriad of designs available when it comes to choosing the style of inkan that gives you the most visual pleasure. The "fonts" vary considerably, as one can see from the sample designs pictured. There is even provision for your own handwritten signature to be transposed into inkan form thanks to Abe's deft skills. This skills come in especially useful when carving designs for village communities that may be almost wholly comprised of residents with the same surname.
The inkan itself can be made from a variety of materials. One of the most common is the light brown tsuge, or boxwood inkan. Originally from Kumamoto, Kyushu, the tsuge is the favoured material of many an inkan carver due to its fine grain and longevity. However, quality does not come cheap, and a good quality tsuge seal (uncarved) will cost you 50,000 yen.
Black inkan, made from the antler of the Indian water-buffalo,
also endures the ages well. A little dimple on the opposite end to the
design indicates a top-quality product. Some of Abe's more particular
customers have requested seals made from Himalayan mountain-goat horn.
The Treaty of Washington controlling the trade in elephant tusks means
that all the uncarved ivory seals in Abe's possession are individually
recorded at the city office. Should the time come when a customer requests
such an inkan, permission must be obtained prior to purchase.
As the inkan is such a valuable item, Abe ensures that the possibility
of fraud is minimised by never carving a seal that exactly resembles
a previous inkan.