Akita: Hanko maker keeps traditions, takes on new trends

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Jyukyu Horie at her company in Akita

AKITA — Jyukyu Horie is the fifth president of the well-established company Horie, a hanko seals maker, in Akita. Horie manages 10 employees, including craftsmen, and is also responsible for sales.

A registered personal seal proves that a person is who they say they are. The company, founded in 1872, suggests the material for the seal and the font based on the tone of customers’ voice, in addition to asking them how they want to use their seal.

“I try to provide hanko seals that people can use with confidence and without hesitation at important moments in their lives,” such as signing a contract, getting married and inheriting an estate, Horie said. Her motto is “to tackle everything with joy and cheerfulness.”

Recently, there has been a growing tendency among government and administrative agencies to not use hanko seals, which has created a headwind for the company. Still, Horie sees this move positively, as it is “a chance to make people aware of the charm of hanko seals.”

The second daughter of the fourth president of the company, Horie worked for another company in the prefecture for about two years after graduating from high school, then she joined the family company at the age of 21. And in 2008, she became the first female president of the company.

Horie has been familiar with the family business since her elementary school days. Since then, she has been helping to serve customers, answering the phone and delivering products to brokerage firms.

“My family’s hanko business has become a part of my life,” she said. When her predecessor died in 2017, she assumed the name “Jyukyu,” which has been passed down from generation to generation, and became the fifth person to hold the title.

After assuming the role of president, Horie has adhered to a management policy of diversification while focusing on the company’s core business of hanko seals.

For example, she has collaborated with Yatsuyanagi, a long-established company that manufactures and sells birch works, in Semboku, Akita Prefecture, to produce hanko seals made with cherry blossom bark work. And recently, the company started selling stamps with about 120 different pictures drawn by employees that capture the characteristics of Akita — such as Akita dogs, bears and Babahera ice cream, a rose-shaped ice cream usually sold by old ladies — and they have become popular products.

“I like to work on new things and take on new challenges,” Horie said.

Currently, she is developing a new product that utilizes the techniques of Kawatsura lacquerware, a traditional craft of Yuzawa, Akita Prefecture. Her aim is to use her products to disseminate the charms of Akita across the country, as she has a strong attachment to her hometown for its relaxed atmosphere.

“I want to carry on the spirit of my predecessors and convey the fascination of hanko seals while continuing to take on new challenges,” she said, determined to add new value to the long-established tradition that spans about 150 years.