Koshu hand-carved seal | Stamps that will never be duplicated


Koshu hand-carved seal has supported Japanese Traditional culture

Koshu hand-carved seal mainly comes from Kofu City and Ichikawamisato-cho, Nishiyashiro-gun, Yamanashi Prefecture. Especially, Ichikawamisato-cho, Nishiyashiro-gun is called “village of stamps,” and the culture of stamps has taken root in the area.

The raw materials used are high-quality materials such as boxwood, buffalo, and crystal. Among them, seals using quartz crystal are rarely made outside Yamanashi Prefecture. For this reason, Koshu hand-carved seals are rare and of high quality.

Characteristics of Koshu hand-carved seals

Koshu hand-carved seals have two characteristics: 

1. The beautiful seal 

Because all the processes are done by hand, the products are elaborate. In particular, the process called “character insertion” and “character correction” are done by hand by skilled artisans, which makes the impression of the seal more gorgeous. The ability to express the delicacy of the characters is the charm of hand-carved. Even if the same name is engraved, the beauty of the seal image will be completely different depending on the craftsman.

In addition, the existence of tools that have been handed down from generation to generation makes this master’stechnique possible. What is important in Koshu hand carve is tools and techniques. Both of them are indispensable for making Koshu hand-carved seals because meticulous work is required. Taking care of tools is indispensable to produce beautiful seals. As the work is done by hand, the tools must be kept in top condition at all times.

2. Cannot be duplicated

This aspect is also related to the fact that all processes are done by hand. Because all Koshu hand-carved seals are made by hand, it is impossible to create exactly the same seal. Hence, it is impossible to duplicate even for mature craftsmen.

Koshu hand-carved seal
Source: https://www.furusato-tax.jp/product/detail/19346/4921132

History of Koshu hand-carved seals

It is said that the production of seals became popular in Yamanashi Prefecture around the end of the Edo period (1861-1863). This was triggered by the discovery of high-quality quartz crystal ore in Yamanashi Prefecture around that time. Quartz crystal work began to be produced using the abundance of quartz crystal, and among these, Hanko (stamps) were particularly well developed. Because of this, Yamanashi Prefecture is still almost the only production center for seals made from quartz crystal.

Around the Tempo era (1868-1912), many seal-making factories were established and many craftsmen became involved, and processing techniques were developed. In the Meiji period (1868-1912), common people were given surnames, and the demand for seals rapidly increased due to the need to manage personal status and property, which led to a dramatic development of the stamp industry in Yamanashi Prefecture.

Koshu hand-carved seal
Source: Yume-jirushi

Manufacturing Method & Process

1. Printing the seal

The custom of affixing seals to important documents was practiced by farmers and ordinary people in the Edo period. From that time on, seals were registered in seal books, and each person had his or her own seal. The seal (hanko) that protected one’s valuable possessions played such an important role that it was treated as “one’s alter ego. As every person is unique, a unique seal has been regarded as the value of one’s own existence.

The main process of Koshu hand-carved seals varies a little depending on the material of the seal. The seal impression of a Koshu hand-carved seal, created by a skilled craftsman, is unique in its own way. In the first step of the process, the surface of the seal is polished with a whetstone to make it flat.

2. Inserting characters

The process of writing characters on the left side of the seal surface by inking or splitting the characters. A good seal is considered to be one in which the character insertion process is done by hand by a craftsman. The fact that the craftsman who produces the seal handwrites the characters to be engraved also ensures that no two seals are alike.

There are several different fonts used in traditional seals. These include small seal, seal, ink seal, ink sousho, slogan, koisho, standard script, running script, and cursive script.

Shoten: This was the typeface of characters unified by Qin Shi Huangdi, who unified China, and was the official writing style of the time. It is a character with uniformity and neat beauty. Because of its graceful impression, it is said to be suitable for personal seals and bank seals for women.

Inten : is a typeface created based on Shoten (小篆). It is the most widely used style typeface for seals, and was used as a symbol of official rank in ancient China. In modern times, this typeface is often used for seals and has an air of authority.

Inso-tai: This is a typeface unique to seals. It is based on the seal, and is designed by taking the contact point with the round frame.

Reisho: This typeface was invented in Qin Dynasty, ancient China, and is a simple linearized version of the small seal.

Kointai: A typeface invented in Japan based on the clerical script, which has been used since ancient times to produce national seals, temple and shrine seals, and private seals. It is also called Yamato Kointai, and is a typeface that shows the individuality and personality of the craftsman who produces it.

Kai-sho: This is the basic typeface used when learning Kanji characters, and is familiar.

Gyosho: A variant of the basic Kai style. Gyosho is an intermediate typeface between Kai and Cursive, and is not as abridged as Cursive. It has a softness, gentleness, and beauty favored by women.

Cursive: A flowing style that looks as if it were written fluently with a brush.

3. Carving (for boxwood and buffalo made products)

Using a suitable carving knife, rough carving is done, leaving the character parts. The carving is finished by using a fine hansashitoh to carve while pushing or pulling the engraving.

4. Engraving (in the case of crystal)

The other side of the seal is blackened  with black ink to make the characters on the seal easier to read. The surface of the seal is carved out by striking the metal tagane round knife. The lettering is finished by striking with a flat blade made of tagane. Then, deep engraving is done by striking the surface with a flat blade, also made of tagane, and the concave surface is shaped.


The technique of “Koshu hand-carved seals” is based on the most beautiful seal script in the 4,000-year history of the writing culture, and the design of the seal to be engraved, character division, character insertion, rough engraving, and finishing are all done by hand using traditional tools and techniques. We will pass on to the next generation the pursuit of the beauty of the completed seal impression, the handling of the seal knife to express it, and the techniques handed down from the olden days.

Koshu Inden

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