10

Since you often need to write your signature fast it should be something short. I wonder which script, kana or kanji, natives use for writing their signature (in most cases)?

6

Talking about writing signatures rather than using seals, the answer is that they vary, and by no small degree.

Firstly, it's worth noting that not all Japanese have Kanji names. In more recent times, some people (usually girls) are given names purely in kana, and almost always hiragana, sometimes even where the kanji that usually write it are obvious. This is to say that the name on their birth certificate will be in hiragana.

The Japanese government requires that all names be either in kanji or kana, but kana names aren't that common, and are limited almost entirely to women.

Kanji

The most common is generally kanji. This is the most common way Japanese people write their name, and so it follows logically that signatures write like this. Below are some examples:

Male Baseballer Another Male Baseballer Female Seiyuu

Kana

I can't find any examples of katakana signatures in isolation. It's sometimes used to annotate sounds, but wouldn't be used in legal documents, and as it stands few if any names are written in katakana for native Japanese. Hiragana is used, though more so amongst women, and even more in arts such for actresses and seiyuu:

enter image description here enter image description here

Though the last one actually has the same artist with a kanji signature:

enter image description here

Romaji using Hepburn

A sign of increasing westernization, and of status, though again not as common as kanji, or hiragana. The image below is an example of this.

enter image description here

Summary

Overall, kanji is definitely the most common, followed by hiragana. Katakana is rare, other than sometimes annotating kanji readings, and finally the small, but increasing number of people who write using romaji. All give off a very different feel, and you may see more of some types in certain occupations than others, especially in arts.

  • 1
    I took it that you meant personal signatures, rather than 印鑑, which tend to be used in legal contexts, and also by institutions as well. Many schools which have their own seal, and will stamp it onto all documents they handle or authorize. You also see them all over east asian artworks and documents. – sqrtbottle Jun 2 '15 at 15:41
  • 3
    It would have been better in my opinion to at least mention in your answer anything at all about 印鑑 (rather than a small comment at the end) especially since most Japanese use 印鑑 almost exclusively (I have only ever been able to "sign" for a 郵貯 account when I was younger). Otherwise they (everywhere from my old part time job to official documents, even when based off of foreign documents where my signature is the acknowledgment ) almost demand I have an 印鑑. – The Wandering Coder Jun 3 '15 at 0:22
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    It's not correct to say "In more recent times, some people (usually girls) are given names purely in kana" because kana names are much more rampant in women's names in a certain generation and older. – user4092 Jun 3 '15 at 0:36
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    OP is asking about signatures and you are talking about autographs. Those are two different things. – l'électeur Jun 3 '15 at 6:52
  • @l'électeur The context of the question regards which characters are written by Japanese. Keeping in mind that the two words are used very loosely and interchangeably in English, and that the Japanese word for autograph is サイン (from signature), I'm almost certain that OP wasn't being distinct between them. While 印鑑 are used more officially to distinguish between people, the asker is directing his question towards handwritten styles, and hence leans towards this as an answer – sqrtbottle Jun 3 '15 at 8:05
7

Japanese people use [印鑑]{いん・かん} (or [判子]{はん・こ}) stamps for official "signatures". Here are some common ones:

田中

enter image description here

山田

enter image description here

If they really need to write quickly, they may use [行書]{ぎょう・しょ} (semi-cursive) or [草書]{そう・しょ} (full cursive), but a) that would be for everything they're writing, not just their name, and b) anything official (signing legal documents, etc.) is done with the 印鑑.

  • 1
    Very few Japanese know 草書, and I've never seen anyone use it outside of calligraphy. Even 行書 is very uncommon to see people writing unless they're a calligrapher, considering so few people are trained with brushes these days. For writing fast (outside of signatures) 略字 are far more common. Also, very few people can even read 草書, so I doubt people would find use for knowing it other than as art, or personal notes. As signatures, it's rare to see – sqrtbottle Jun 2 '15 at 17:25
  • I think the same, besides 印鑑 the most people just "sign" like normally writing their name down in plain nice readable characters. – dinogeist Jun 2 '15 at 23:40
  • You might mention the different types of 印鑑 and when and where they can be used (the ink stamp ones for unofficial documents, the wooden ones that use shiniku for any document (particularly official ones) etc. – The Wandering Coder Jun 3 '15 at 0:25
  • @TheWanderingCoder: I don't want to, that's why I linked to Wikipedia. – istrasci Jun 3 '15 at 2:18
  • @istrasci Fair enough. And apologies, I did miss that link. – The Wandering Coder Jun 3 '15 at 4:15
4

It would be helpful if signature were better defined in the question. This is because the term signature can refer to at least the following things:

  1. as a synonym for "your trademark"
  2. how you would sign something for a fan
  3. how you would write your name / indicate who you are on a quasi-legal document
  4. how you would write your name / attest identity on an important legal contract

The answer by sqrtbottle talks almost exclusively about 1 and 2. In an American context, 2-4 might all be roughly the same. In my own case, my signature in English is illegible and doesn't even include every single letter.

For 3-4, the point is that it should be a mark that would be hard to duplicate due to the idiosyncratic nature of writing.

When I deal with "signatures" ([署名]{しょめい}) in Japanese however the situation is quite different -- regardless of whether I'm writing it is in English characters or one of the Japanese scripts.

The most common way of doing 3 or 4 is using an [印鑑]{いんかん}. Inkans come in different degrees of legal validity scaling up from things you bought at a 100 yen shop for signing lighter documents to a [実印]{じついん} which is only used for much more serious matters like signing a loan for a house or car.

A second related concept is [自署]{じしょ} where you can attest that something is you by writing out your full name legibly by hand. For many documents, you need to stamp it with your inkan if you printed it but can just skip this if you hand wrote it ([押印]{おういん}[不要]{ふよう}).

I was just at the driver's license office and didn't bring my 印鑑, but being a foreigner they just had me sign on the border of the revenue stamps. They were not happy with my Western-style initials signature because they wanted at least some legible part of my name on the stamps. By American (maybe more broadly Western?) standards, this would be unnecessary as the thing that makes it a signature is that it suffers from the defects of my writing style.

Consequently, it matters greatly if by "signature" you mean official or formal way of attesting identity or if you mean something you can write for a fan.

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