Translator’s Note: In 2009 I translated this feature for John Mottishaw of Nibs.com. It’s a special report from MONO Magazine, and provides an introduction to Japanese pens, pen manufacturers and individual craftsmen (Family names are in CAPS). The feature also includes writeups on select pens from each maker, and an interview with Mottishaw 🙂
As you read this, it might be helpful to remember that the intended audience for this article was (1) Japanese, and (2) had probably not encountered fountain pens before. These help explain the particular tone of the feature, and how certain pens are presented.
The translated text is also available on Mottishaw’s website —
http://www.nibs.com/JapaneseMonoArticle.html — together with scans of the original feature but the formatting could be improved. Hence I’ve made this page, which I hope will be more conducive to reading.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading this, and please feel free to leave comments and questions!
Special Feature: The True Mettle of Japanese Pens
On the right is a prototype pen designed by Mr YOSHIDA Shinichi of Nakaya. (release date TBA). On the olive drab color that fully evokes a military air, “UNITED STATES PROPERTY” has been inscribed. The pen may have been meant to be carried concealed in a jeans pocket, but the exquisiteness of the color comes forth freely.
On the left is Sailor’s magic-like Concord nib. When written with feed-down, the nib gives a very fine line. But when written with feed-up, the nib yields a generous broad stroke. This earthshaking miracle was realized in Japan.
There is no doubt that Japanese pens are defining universal standards for fountain pens.
Carving their Mark on the World
An abundance of pen nibs dedicated to the writing experience. Specialized nib designs that shatter traditional assumptions. This is the world of Japanese fountain pens.
There was a Golden Age of Writing, where fountain pens were used for all writing from official documents to personal missives. Ballpoint pens replaced fountain pens however, and with the spread of computer use the writing habit has been declining. Fountain pens are less and less likely to be found amongst one’s personal items. They live on outside Japan, but are considered more and more as ornaments, not writing instruments. Hence there is a sense that, if nothing is done to recover the meaning and practice of writing, some essence of fountain pen manufacture would be lost.
In these circumstances, Japanese pens embody the best thinking about the relationship between fountain pens and writing. Originally, fountain pen manufacturing came to Japan relatively late and early models imitated Western ones. However, Western pens were developed for writing horizontal script, while Japanese script was vertical in nature. Moreover, due to the multiple strokes of kanji , there was great emphasis on the ability of a nib to make very fine lines. At the same time, the nib also had to be able to make the ink trails that typically end many kanji. The Japanese calligraphic tradition uses soft hair brushes. Inevitably, when it came to writing instruments, the Japanese demanded the best. In response, domestic pen manufacturers expended great effort, especially in developing suitable nib shapes that ensured the right amount of flex, researching the manufacture of necessary alloys, the right proportion of metals etc. After many experiments and mistakes over the years, Japanese pen manufacturers now have a body of knowledge that is unique in the world.
Foreign pen companies usually have 3 to 5 fountain pen product lines. Compare that with Japan’s 3 largest pen makers and their standard product lines: Platinum has 7. Pilot has 15. Sailor has 7 as well, but each of their standard products lines has 14K and 21K nib options. In addition, Sailor has several additional product lines with unique nib designs. Compared with their foreign counterparts, there is an unbelievable bounty of fountain pen varieties in Japan. What is also amazing is that every domestic pen manufacturer produces softer nibs in addition to the harder nibs that usually suit the pressure modern pen users exert while writing. This is unique to Japan, and not the case with foreign manufacturers. This also shows the extent of the sensitivity of Japanese people to the pen in contact with paper, and the extent to which Japanese pen makers continue to be deeply concerned with the meaning and practice of writing. In any case, it seems that the national preferences are clear when it comes to the issue of writing.
The performances of Japanese nibs were further improved through various pen clinics organized by pen manufacturers from the 1990s onwards. Craftsmen from each company were able to interact directly with customers, and so were able to customize each nib minutely to the owner’s individual style of writing. Using the experience gained from these clinics to develop new fountain pens, these companies managed to recreate writing experiences akin to the best of the Golden Age of fountain pens, even as cynics saw a period where fountain pen use was declining.
The 2000 Chicago Pen Show was where Japan showed that its pen makers were the best in the world in creating these writing experiences. There, as part of its global outreach, Sailor held its highly-regarded pen clinic outside Japan for the first time and sent “Pen Doctor” Mr NAGAHARA Nobuyoshi. Americans who had their pens customized to their personal writing styles gave cries of gratitude, shaking hands with and embracing Mr Nagahara. For him, seeing such emotions expressed so frankly was in itself a happy, moving experience. At the welcome ceremony for this great master, there were no stiff formalities, only wave after wave of people cheering Mr Nagahara with cries of “Naga! Nagi!” (a reference to his invention the Naginata Togi nib). Nagahara simply smiled and flashed the peace sign. This was the moment where Japan led the world in terms of the writing experience. In October 2007, Mr Nagahara was named a “Contemporary Master Craftsman” by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Finally, fountain pen craftsmen were given their long-due recognition in Japan.
Now, all Japanese pen companies enthusiastically organize such overseas clinics. The result has been the large-scale export of the writing experience. Once again, Japanese pens made using maki-e techniques have drawn the world’s attention. Ever since Dunhill-Namiki introduced the world to maki-e, where a vast expanse can be captured in a mere 10 centimeters or so on a pen barrel, the technique has been prized internationally. One can find oil painted miniatures that seem similar to this kind of urushi work. But no matter how thoroughly the oil painted illustrations try to evoke a sense of space, no matter how powerful their expressions or how decorative or colorful they are, they pale in comparison to the infinitely changing delights of maki-e. The price of maki-e will probably continue to rise, and the world can expect to see greater masterpieces.
In the history of fountain pens, Japanese products have become the world’s best in the realm of the writing experience. This much attention has only ever been concentrated on Japan’s automobile industry. If Japanese pen manufacturers continue to strive for pens that are genuinely beautiful, write easily and possess the ultimate balance, Japan could become the country that revives the Golden Age of fountain pens. This is our sincerest wish and hope.
This is Mr Nagahara, named “Nib King” by authoritative pen magazine Pen World. Everywhere he goes, he brings joy to people who would otherwise not be able to have their pens fixed. Like the Indian whose tears turned to laughter, or the Italian who was unfriendly at first, but later kept bringing cakes and tea for Mr Nagahara in order to see him work. He says in his Hiroshima accent: “The craftsman’s job is to make the customer’s dreams take shape. If the desires are there, the craftsman’s skills will draw it out. There are no words that cannot be written.” By the way, Hangul and Arabic are a little harder.
I remember the wonder I felt when the Profit was launched in 1981, not only at the flex of the nib but also the way ink flowed from it like a spring. I was astonished at the performance of the feed: simple, able to retain so much ink without dumping any blots. Maintenance is also easy because of the pen’s simplicity. The internal construction of Sailor pens has always displayed high levels of technical skill, and this has allowed Sailor to top the ink blot tests of many lifestyle magazines. Moreover, unique nib designs from the genius pen craftsmen who appeared in Sailor from the 1980s on strengthened Sailor’s reputation. Completing the package is Sailor’s own Jentle brand of inks. And with the launch of new easy-to-use permanent inks, Sailor is easily the choice of pen experts.
• SYMBOL indicates the pen that best symbolizes the brand.
• FIRST indicates the first pen those new to the brand should get
• SECOND indicates the pen that those who already have some experience with fountain pens of any brand should get
• MINI indicates mini-sized pens that can be easily carried and used at all times.
Unless stated otherwise, all lengths are with the cap posted.
SYMBOL: Profit 21 Nashiji with Naginata-togi nib
The Naginata-togi nib is like a family heirloom – a treasured blade, perhaps – passed down through generations and jealously guarded. The tipping on the nib is larger than usual. The tip curves upwards gently like the blade of a naginata, and sharpened to a narrower point. The tipping has been shaped to provide different line widths depending on the angle at which the pen is held. When almost flat, the nib gives a fat line. When held almost upright, it writes a very fine line. This design and construction allows the user to fully execute the specific strokes required in writing kanji. Even those who exert no pressure on the nib can write rapidly with it, and still probably leave handwriting redolent with the flowing elegance and voluptuousness of kanji. The Nashiji finish (created by blowing glass powder onto the surface) on the cap and body are applied with the same devotion and consistency across all of these pens. Price: 36,750 Yen.
FIRST: Profit 21
This is Sailor’s flagship model: ideal for experiencing what Sailor pens are like. To avoid fatigue after long periods of writing, the body of the pen is made of plastic and shaped like a parabola. Older fountain pens had several mechanisms for ensuring that ink would not leak out while the pens were closed, but these made the nib dry out easily. Hence the problem of how to create a pen that only required “one touch” to use. On this point, the Profit was designed to keep condensation to a minimum while maintaining that “one touch” ease of ink flow. It can be said that the brand’s specialty is its soft 21K nib. The pen’s construction and materials are all geared towards making it feel more and more familiar in your hand from the day you first hold it. Price: 21,000 Yen.
SECOND: Cross Point nib
At pen clinics around Japan people constantly wished for a pen that would provide not just a stress-free writing experience but a sumptuous one, even on traditional Japanese paper on which most nibs would catch. Thus was born the “Cross Point” nib. Stories about Mr Nagahara’s wizardry would not be complete without mentioning this nib! 2 nibs are joined one on top of the other then specially slit to form a distinctive cross at the tip of the nib. This cross-shaped slit acts as a mini ink collector. Even as the writing angle changes as you write, the spot where nib touches paper remains smooth, almost glassy yet retaining vigor. Surely this is the realization of the brush experience that fountain pens aim to capture. Writing is constantly pleasant. This is a pen whose invention was shaped by the writing principles behind extremely large and thick characters. Price: 4,7250 Yen. Customer Service Phone Number: 0120-1911-67.
MINI: Professional Gear Mini
The Professional Gear: the easy-to-use pen for cost-conscious users tasked with heavy-duty note taking. The same Sailor design philosophy that ensures the user gets the most enhanced performance out of the pen when he needs it, is evident in all 135mm of the Pro Gear Mini. The barrel end has been flattened, and threads cut on it, allowing the cap to screw onto the end. Posted in this way, the pen’s balance is excellent, and writing in small spaces and scribbling become pleasures. Moreover, I love the anchor emblem stamped on the crown of the cap.
Pilot has the image of one traveling the royal road of fountain pens. The 65th anniversary fountain pen, released when the limited edition fountain pen boom was in full swing, has spurred the evolution of successive fountain pens up to this day. The limited edition pens released after that still consistently possess an attitude of self-questioning, providing feedback for the current line of pens including the Custom series. The 823 series, launched several years ago with its vacuum-fill plunger system still ranks as a masterpiece among the best-made modern pens. Other historically significant pens include the Silvern and the Capless. Of course, the maki-e pens released under the Namiki brand are also highly desirable.
SYMBOL: Custom 845
Before the advent of malleable plastics, fountain pens were turned from ebonite. Ebonite discolors over time, but Pilot solved this problem by coating the pen with urushi lacquer. How this method then led to the birth of the Dunhill-Namiki maki-e pens is well-known, but among Pilot’s standard Custom pen lines, the Custom 845 is the fine successor to these early urushi-coated pens. Its 18K, #15 nib has a longer tip and more tipping, providing a gentle writing experience. Without having to exert much force, one feels as if he is wielding a brush. Well-suited to writing for long periods. Price: 52,500 Yen.
FIRST: Custom 742
There should be a variety of nibs available such that each person can find a nib that is suited to his own individual characteristics (e.g. intended use, how much pressure exerted while writing) yet still have as much expressive power as all other nibs.
This idea is most evident in Pilot. Among all Japanese pen manufacturers, Pilot treats the writing of the Japanese language with the most sincerity. Its lineup of 15 pen product lines satisfies users, from absolute beginners to the most fervent pen maniacs.
The FA (Falcon) nib introduced here can, even when used by those who exert unusually little pressure when writing, produce wide lines. The large scoops on either side of this specially designed nib allow the tines to spread out for brush-like lines. Price: 21,000 Yen. Customer Service Phone Number: 03-3538-3700.
SM (Soft Medium) nibs are now a national treasure! For writing that requires the full expression of the hane, harai and tome strokes unique to Japanese script, this nib is the most suitable, providing a genuine writing experience. The cap outrivals others in its ability to create a hermetic seal and prevent the pen from drying out. The clip has the right amount of springiness. The merits of this pen, which reveal themselves with regular use, are why it can be considered one of the best examples of Pilot’s craftsmanship.
SECOND: Custom 823
If one of your worries about using fountain pens is that you will run out of ink, Pilot’s vacuum-fill plunger system – the only one among all Japanese pen manufacturers – will put your mind at ease. First, unscrew the blind cap and pull out the plunger. Pushing it back down creates a vacuum within the barrel that fills with ink once the plunger reaches the bottom. Naturally, the pen is also designed to prevent leaks, so users can carry their pens without worry. Moreover, the pen has a capacity of 1.5ml, and you can tell at a glance how much ink is left in the semi-transparent barrel. The best pen I can recommend for lots of writing, heavy duty work. Price: 31,500 Yen.
MINI: Legno 89S
For all who wished they had another pen on them when their main one ran out of ink, one that would also provide a writing experience that was in no way inferior, the Legno 89S is the answer. One of the pens launched to commemorate Pilot’s 89th anniversary, this is a short pen measuring 130mm long, that encapsulates all the charm of fountain pens. The body is made from a kind of compressed wood called “Complite”, where thin slices of wood are pressed under high pressure and impregnated with resin. Despite the grains in the pen, this is a heavy duty user that your fingertips will easily become familiar with. The 14K #3 nib becomes easier to write with the longer one uses the pen. A mini giant. Price: 12,600 Yen.
It is known among pen collectors that the late literary great and pen collector Mr UMEDA Haruo left behind in his personal writings this statement: “I am prepared to create the pens that will be the absolute best in my collection.” Platinum was the company that responded to those words. United under president Mr NAKATA, and with Mr Umeda’s advocacy, experiments to create the ultimate fountain pen began. Thus emerged the pen named after the height of Mt. Fuji – the #3776 series.
This became a bestseller. Up till then hooded nibs dominated the pen market after the introduction of the Parker “51”. The #3776 heavily influenced the return of demand for older style, open nibs.
SYMBOL: #3776 – Ribbed
With the cooperation of the late novelist Mr Umeda Haruo, the ideal pen was achieved at last, and it was marked with a height of 3776m. From diligently studying his 1000 pen collection, Umeda concluded that the ideal pen should have a barrel 13mm in diameter, a nib about 23mm long, and a center of gravity in the vicinity of 56 – 57% from the rear of the pen. There are deep ribs down the length of the barrel. These are not just for looks. They allow the pen to be held comfortably without slipping, regardless of the position it is held in. The ribbed surface also acts like a radiator, dispersing heat from the hand and preventing the air inside the barrel from expanding and disrupting the smooth, controlled flow of ink. Price: 21,000 Yen.
The first impression this pen leaves is that it well deserves its name: the barrel is large and imposing, yet has a simple exterior. But its true charm lies elsewhere – when you first write with it. Is this the result of absolute adherence to the late Mr Umeda Haruo’s principles!? The centre of gravity when writing is designed to be around the 56-57% position. Writing with the cap posted is also easy, due to the fine balance achieved, itself the result of research piled upon research. The pen doesn’t cause the writer any fatigue even after a long period of writing. Moreover, the large, 18K, 22m long nib will withstand even daily use by the heaviest users.
SECOND: Hammered Sterling Silver (PP-100000M)
Traditional Japanese crafts possess a refined beauty completely different from gaudy Western decoration. Among fountain pens that embody these traditional Japanese techniques, the maki-e pens are the most famous. However for the sheer beauty of using a pen, there is this hammered sterling silver one.
Originally used make curved surfaces in copper, a hammer is used to strike out a distinctive pattern. Applying this technique, wielding a small hammer over the fountain pen, is traditional artisan Mr IWAMURA Jun’ichi. Hitting with all one’s strength would harm the internals of the pen. It takes supernatural skill to always calculate accurately how much force is required to just create the pattern. This pen weighs 42.7g, and is fitted with one of Platinum’s large nibs, on which the brand’s logo is prominently engraved. Price: 105,000 Yen. Customer Service: 0120-875-760.
“Fountain Pen Man Loves Japan” – John Mottishaw
John Mottishaw. With Richard Binder, one of America’s 2 unmatched nibmeisters. Based in Los Angeles, he accepts orders from all over the world for nib adjustments and tuning, for all fountain pens. He left metal sculpting in the mid-90s and entered the world of fountain pens.
Observing and studying all of the work processes at Platinum’s Koshigaya factory. Afterwards, Mottishaw and the factory manager exchanged ideas and questions over illustrations. By the way, Mottishaw is using a classic OMAS pen. He expressed admiration at the conscientiousness of the manual work that went into manufacturing the nibs.
The quality of Japanese pens is unparalleled in the world.
In the West, it is extremely common to have old pens repaired, or nibs on new pens adjusted to make them write better. It is also not unusual for sellers in America to only stock stub and italic nibs, which are in high demand. But even in this mature, even fertile pen environment few companies manufacture their own nibs. This is despite the fact that a nib is the heart of a pen.
Internationally renowned American nibmeister John Mottishaw says: “Japanese pen manufacturers take full responsibility for nibs and feeds, and make their own. Furthermore, their quality management extends so far as to ensure that even after a pen has been purchased, the user will have an excellent writing experience. There is no other example of such control in the world at the moment. Now, I can absolutely say that Japanese fountain pens probably offer the best writing experience in the world. And the simple, uncluttered designs are truly beautiful.” He smiled. “Seeing the place where Japanese pens are manufactured – it’s a bit of sightseeing for me.” This was the purpose of his first visit to Japan.
During his stay, Mottishaw visited Platinum’s Koshigaya factory to observe and learn. He also participated in one lively discussion after another with the Nakaya craftsmen.
“Most of all, the ‘human’ element left the deepest impression on me. To bring such passion to pen making, to participate with in these processes so scrupulously! I was astonished. There were even young people there studying with all their might.”
The surprise evident on Mottishaw’s face was a morale booster for Japan. Japanese people demand even the minutest things for their fountain pens. In responding, Japanese pen makers have created nibs that far and away surpass international standards.
The Cigar model, Long type barrel that craftsman Mr Matsubara grinds has, never existed before. The unique finished product is held easily and with excellent balance. The Balance Control model is without doubt the ultimate pen. On top of this, Nakaya hasn’t forgotten urushi lacquer pens. Using the best urushi craftsmen from Wajima, marvelous transparency and density is achieved. In maki-e pens, the craftsmen express their talents with bold paintings and illustrations, with high degrees of finishing. But because most of these masterworks are sold online, it is regrettable that we are not able to see the real pens.
SYMBOL: Wajima Urushi-nuri, Cigar Model, Long Size, Kuro-tame
This pen condenses the essence of Nakaya. “The length is just right for a handheld object,” revealed a Nakaya pen designer. At 165mm when capped, this is especially suited for a desk pen. In this urushi-nuri piece, a coat of lacquer mixed with black coloring is applied over a layer of vivid vermilion. This is the kuro-tame technique. Over time and with exposure to ultraviolet rays, the black urushi becomes clearer, and the vermilion underneath will reveal itself little by little, giving the pen its exquisite charm. Without any ornamentation, clip or such, the flavor of the urushi stands out even more. Price: 57,750 Yen. Enquiries: http://www.nakaya.org
FIRST: Special Order “Midori Ishi-me”, Writer model, Portable
At first glance, it looks like bronze but is the material is really ebonite. A legendary urushi lacquer technique is used here, making the pen uniquely rough to the touch. The craftsman sows urushi powder onto the barrel. Due to surface tension, this creates lots of grains on the surface. When dry, he varnishes the barrel with lacquer several times. After the body has hardened, he used charcoal to sharpen the grains. Finally, when wiping lacquer is applied, the rough stone-like finish becomes visible. Although a popular urushi technique, it is rarely used for fountain pens. Price: 69,300 Yen.
SECOND: Balance Control model
This line of pens was created in response to a user’s question: “Can’t I change the balance and weight of the pen?” Metal rings are inserted into the barrel of the pen, allowing the user to freely change the centre of gravity to suit his writing tastes. A spiral thread is cut down the length of the inside of the barrel, so that rings can be inserted with a screw-like motion. This cutting requires a high degree of skill. Barrels are normally made with materials like acrylic, but the photograph features one made with the heki-tame finish. Five rings are supplied with each pen, with extra rings costing more. Price including two-toned nib (rhodium plating on 14K gold, with heart-shaped breather hole): 94,500 Yen.
MINI: Wajima Urushi-nuri, Piccolo Writer model
This is the opposite of the Cigar model. Without the cap the pen is 130mm long and it just contains everything necessary for a Nakaya pen. But the wide barrel makes the pen exceptionally easy to grip, providing it with the appropriate credentials for its name: the Writer model.
The urushi technique used here is called “nuri hanashi shu”. Without polishing, a matte texture is left on the surface of the pen. Because no work can be done after the lacquer has been applied, mistakes are unforgivable. High levels of skills and craftsmanship are called for. Price: 57,750 Yen.
In order to create a beautiful curved surface using the lathe, the finger strength used must be just right. Mr Yoshida is responsible for bringing the pen from a marvelous paper design to its nib fitting and adjustment.
The beauty of Nakaya pens has most likely opened new doors for pens. Nakaya has made many pens using materials such as briar wood, celluloid and leather. But above all they are especially particular about their urushi pens. The barrel is turned from ebonite, the material traditionally used for making fountain pens. But the work of applying urushi to the barrel is performed mainly by Wajima urushi craftsmen. Next, depending on the desired end product, tame-nuri, maki-e, chin-kin etc techniques are applied. Regardless of whether Nakaya suggests a pen or whether they are responding to a customer’s wishes, the resulting pens are works of industrial art.
However, in order to bring such beauty into the world, the barrel’s silhouette and balance must be perfect. Moreover it must function well as a writing instrument. The craftsman before the lathe responsible for making such wondrous barrels is Mr MATSUBARA Kousuke. In 1972, he had the rare honor of being involved in the making of Emperor Hirohito’s 50th Wedding Anniversary commemorative fountain pen. Mr Matsubara continues to follow his order cards. One by one, in his conscientious hands, barrel by barrel is turned, taking shape. It is said that Nakaya pen barrels represent the zenith of fountain pens, and Mr Matsubara’s shaping skills are evident in every one.
Exploring all the possibilities of urushi; the myriad expressions of pleasure and joy. For this reason, pen designer Mr YOSHIDA Shinichi says, “Visual aesthetics are important too. Urushi strengthens the appearance of the pen. It’s essential that the barrel be resistant to chemicals. As the years pass, the color of the barrel will change little by little in proportion. This gives the pen a certain elegance, and allows the user to derive pleasure from it for a very long time.”
In Japan, one pen collector after another is created. And it is all because of Nakaya.
Hollowing out the pen barrel and shaping it is the most mentally demanding part of the process. Cutting the threads in the cap and other parts present challenges that most young craftsmen cannot handle.
“To be just one step away from the Infinite Work: this cannot be achieved by our hands alone. Nature, God, the Universe – in any case a force we clearly cannot understand – we need to entrust ourselves to Its great hands.” — SHINODA Toukou, Sumi-iro (Color of Ink)
For over 20 years, Hakase of Tottori has used an order form where a customer’s writing style is determined in 3 places. First of all, Japanese characters are to be written in public and under mental pressure. The writer is next asked to look at the characters, reflect on them and practice writing them 3 times. In this way, his mentality is revealed in how the characters are altered by his inner state expressed through his hand and onto the form.
For orders received from faraway customers where face-to-face meetings are not possible, when doubts remain the customers are asked to send in photos or video recordings.
Craftsman Mr TANAKA Harumi is the one who observes such writing behavior, and uses his insights to derive the right shape of pen. Mr Tanaka is the only one in Japan who handles all steps in making the pen, from nib grinding to pen-turning. In other words, he is the only such craftsman in the world.
“When it comes to turning a pen, I rely on the sound of the cutting edge and the feel of my foot on the pedal of the lathe. I resort to my physical senses to tell me how much not to release. This is the closest I can get to what’s actually happening. When the customer sees how much concentration is brought to bear on the pen, he would think that it’s really difficult for the craftsman,” smiles Mr Tanaka. “I finish 90% of the nib grinding on my own. The remaining 10% comes from the customer using the nib. When pens are returned for repair, just one look at the nib and I know if it’s been “brought up” properly or not. The way it feels on paper, the flow of the ink. The barrel would also be darkened by moisture and oils from the user’s hand. Occasionally, I deliver a pen that makes the user never want to let it out of his grip.”
A marvelous pen that makes others go wild with delight. The One in whom the craftsman places his trust must have great hands indeed.
It can only be a miracle of our age that the provincial town of Tottori has become an unparalleled maker of custom-made fountain pens for the whole of Japan, with 4000 customers. Such hard-won achievements are most likely due to company president Mr Yamamoto’s “We’ll try anything” spirit, and craftsman Mr Tanaka’s gifted talents. What is interesting is that if you look at the pens Mr Tanaka has made over the years, you would notice that the pen barrel gradually becomes fatter. This is probably because Mr Tanaka has to make his pens in accordance with customers’ demands and these pens reflect how the collective preferences of the Japanese have changed over time, resulting in the pens’ ultimate shape. I look forward to the development of the announced 3rd generation successor to the company president.
SYMBOL: S.D – S.W.D Model (Black Water Buffalo Horn)
It all began with this customer order: “Because the pen is heavy, metal fittings are unnecessary”. The “Stopper Dot” (commonly known as a “belly button”) in the middle of the barrel and the “Short Water Drop” clip combine practicality (they prevent the pen from rolling off a surface) and austerity. These display a kind of stoicism, a certain struggle towards the ideal writing instrument. The nib and other minimal fittings are 14K gold, as if following a creed. The pen’s plump barrel and fine balance will lead the wielder to physically experience — through the feel of the pen in the hand as he extends his arm to write – the depths of his heart. This pen is the only one in the world made from black water buffalo horn. The experience is comparable only to a loving embrace, strong at its core but gentle. Price: 189,000 Yen.
FIRST: 50th Anniversary Model
Following Hakase’s motto that “It should be as good as a large pen”, this pen has a larger than usual barrel (EX version: 15mm in diameter, 2 to 3 mm larger than other companies’ large-barreled pens). Tanaka’s mastery of straight and curved lines gives this large barrel a sense of dynamism. Although the pen was designed with the assumption that the user would post the cap, it must be added that even without posting the user will feel as if the pen fits neatly into his hand. The section provides a marvelous arena for thumb and forefinger to gently push against each other, like sumo exponents. The large 14K nib is also designed such that the whole pen achieves the best possible balance. While probably not appropriate for intensive note-taking, the pen can give a dynamic writing experience. Price: 126,000 Yen. Phone: 0120-27-7714. http://www.fp-hakase.com/
SECOND: Natural tortoiseshell pen
Natural tortoiseshell is rare as exports are prohibited. Craftsmen specializing in this material are few as well. With advances continuously made in all materials and the methods used to work with them, is there still a place for a tortoiseshell fountain pen? This pen has sold well since it first hit the market nearly 20 years ago. Tortoiseshell is a material like no other and will not bear adhesives or glues. In terms of skill required, this material is tremendously difficult to work with. The other materials used in the cap and the end of the barrel – black water buffalo horn and black ebonite – are meant to show off to maximum effect the tortoiseshell’s unrivalled transparency and patterning. The girth of the barrel and its curvature are wider than other series’, but makes for unimaginably light writing.
MINI: Celluloid pen
Celluloid was the raw material that fuelled the profusion of pen designs, colors and varieties from the 1920s to the 1950s. Capable of vibrant colors, innovative designs and changing with time and environment – it can be said that celluloid is a “living material”. A short time after the first celluloid pens were completed, many flaws became evident e.g. the cap would detach itself from the pen. It would take over 20 years to solve these problems. Of the Hakase pens, the mini size is exceptional. The wide, sensual barrel improves hand mobility while writing, and enhances the ability of the writer to take notes. This also shows in how written characters evoke a pleasurable sense of tension in the viewer. Cap on, the pen is 120mm long. When clipped in a shirt pocket the pen looks as if it belongs perfectly. Full of portable sensibility. Price: 52,500 Yen.
RIVALS!? SPLENDID PENS FROM OVERSEAS
You have seen how excellent Japanese pens are in the preceding pages. Of course, those abroad pay close attention to Japanese pens. But Japanese shops and craftsmen are big fans of foreign pens too. What are these pens, that their design trends are acknowledged by even the most demanding folk?
Foreign pens that have captivated others.
There are craftsmen who strive for pen nibs that fulfill a variety of needs and desires – different stroke widths, writing pressure etc. There are even nibs that can produce commas 1mm thin, are easy to use and capable of producing beautiful letters. There are craftsmen who use only materials that have passed stringent checks, and who grind nibs to nimble, beautiful points.
Japanese pens exemplify the height of a unique cultivation of “beauty of use”, and there is no doubt that they are praised worldwide. In reality however, there are also shops and craftsmen dealing in domestic fountain pens, who also take their hats off to some overseas pen brands.
These pens are different from those developed since the dawn of fountain pens in Japan. Here, we introduce some excellent overseas fountain pen brands that have won acknowledgement from demanding Japanese users.
Pelikan: Souverän M300
The Souverän M300 is one name that demanding craftsmen will definitely raise. Of the traditional pen manufacturers still around, Pelikan amazes still. Its trademark is its piston-filling system. The stability provided by the ink inside and the balance of the pen is the same as that of a regular-size pen. No small achievement. 125mm. Price: 31,500 Yen. Enquiries: Pelikan Japan. Tel: 03-3836-6541.
Recife: Riviera Baby Press
The Riviera Baby press, with its slim barrel bulging in the middle, is easy to write with and a favorite notebook companion of many. Available in a wide variety of colors, there is one to suit every mood. Its steel nib also promises smooth writing sensations. 140mm. Price: 5040 Yen. Enquiries: Ginza Yoshida. Tel: 03-3561-0738
Delta: Dolce Vita Mini
A young brand with craftsmen of profound skill, Delta pens are bestsellers and the brand is already considered representative of all Italian brands. The compact size ensures that the orange of the South Italian sun will make an appearance in suit pockets. The clip is designed to be stylish, and it won’t damage your only best suit. 125mm. Price: 60,900 Yen. Enquiries: Diamond. Tel: 03-3831-0469.
Visconti: Divina Black
The Golden Mean of mathematician, philosophers and artists. Based on that divine ratio, resin and sterling silver are crafted by hand in the most pleasing proportions. The top of the pen is shaped like a pentagon, and the inlay spiraling from top to bottom is beautiful. A pen that can become intimate with the palm of your hand. Price: 113,400 Yen. Enquiries: Nihon Siberhegner. Tel: 03-5441-4515.
Lamy: Studio Pearl White
A bestselling pen created by industrial designer Hannes Wettstein. The minimalist design, utilizing stainless steel, and the curves of the pen will evoke a stream of pleasing thoughts. This limited edition color – Pearl White – looks even more attractive with the pen’s unique clip. Price: 21,000 Yen. Enquiries: Nihon Siberhegner. Tel: 03-5441-4515.
KATOU SEISAKUSHO COMPANY
Mr Katou took his own hand-made pens to Arabia without any capital, and used the trust and goodwill he gained there to build his own pen factory. Known as “Spaceman”, Mr Kato is the father of Arab fountain pens, and worked to spread fountain pen use across Arabia. In order to show that his celluloid pens – turned with the philosophy “low priced and easy to use” – could rival the world’s finest pens, Katou Seisakusho Company was founded. The celluloid pens made while subcontracted to Visconti are both functional and beautiful. In order to let all the camphor vaporize from the celluloid, the celluloid needs to rest for several years, but this also involves skill. Mr Katou’s skills have been recognized, and his products are both stable and attractive.
SYMBOL: 1300 Series
The celluloid barrel is not merely a simple tube, but designed such that its smooth curves provide the best possible writing sensations and balance while the cap is posted. Such fine machining and grinding can only be accomplished by one with intuition and sensitive fingers trained by years of experience. The limited edition model with black striping was made with what little barrel material remained in the factory, and is immensely valuable. When light shines through the clear parts of the barrel, a beautiful contrast between the black and the clear stripes is created.
Right – Limited edition striped black. Price: 15,750 Yen
Left – “Barafu” Green. Price: 13,650 Yen
Enquiries: Pen House. Tel: 06-6920-4351. http://www.pen-house.net/
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In exchange for being extremely difficult to work with, celluloid is capable of wonderful, pleasing colors. In particular, the mosaic versions with their multitude of colors possess a certain feeling of depth and the attractive translucency of stones glittering just under the surface of a river. Furthermore, Mr Katou bears the words “a fountain pen is meant to be used” to heart while making his pens, and anyone can have an exceptional pen in his hand at a decent price.
From right: Kaleidoscope, “Barafu” Wine Red. Price: 13,650 Yen.
1. “Kanji” are Chinese characters used in Japanese written language. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanji
2. hane, harai and tome are Japanese calligraphy names for specific strokes.
3. SHINODA Toukou is a world-renowned Japanese artist working with traditional ink (sumi) and print. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinoda_Toko
4. Seisakusho = workshop or plant. So a literal English translation would be odd –- Katou Workshop Company.
5. I couldn’t find a meaning for barafu except that it’s another name for the Ice Plant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesembryanthemum_crystallinum. “Mottled” doesn’t seem like an accurate adjective, but “cracked ice” wasn’t very accurate either. Perhaps “pearlescent”?
(Translation by Leon Lim)