In January of 2008, while in Tokyo, John was interviewed by Mono Magazine, a glossy upscale monthly. The article, translated for us by Leon Lim, appears below.
Special Feature: The True Mettle of Japanese Pens
On the left 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
Above 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
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 kanji1, there was great emphasis on
the ability of a nib to make very fine lines.
1 “Kanji” are Chinese characters used in Japanese written language. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanji.
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
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
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
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 strokes2 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
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
2 Calligraphy terms
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 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
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)3
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
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
3 A world-renowned Japanese artist working with traditional ink (sumi) and print.
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.
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 fueled 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:
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.
KATOU4 SEISAKUSHO5 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
4 Commonly spelled “Kato” too.
5 Seisakusho = workshop, plant. So a literal English translation would be odd – Katou Workshop
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”6 Green. Price: 13,650 Yen
Enquiries: Pen House. Tel: 06-6920-4351. http://www.pen-house.net/
[Additional Text at bottom]
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.
(Translation by Leon Lim)
6 Literal. Couldn’t find a meaning for the term 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. “Pearlescent”?