Travels with pens: Japan concluded!

If you remember from my last post, I’ve spent the past week in Tokyo for work. The schedule has been punishing at times, but I’ve had a blast.

What’s really stuck with me has been the hospitality of the people and the amazing service, the great food, and just how incredibly clean and well-kept everything is here. This is one of the most welcoming cities I’ve been to, and it’s also a stationery mecca. I’ll do a write-up of my haul at a future date once I’ve had time to try it all out, and I’ll likely add more photos and more description once I’ve had a chance to go through my photos properly, but here’s my trip report. Let’s get down to it.

Itoya

This was my first destination, literally on the evening I arrived in Tokyo. I walked an hour to Ginza and Itoya hit me like a brick. Six floors of stationery, including one of the largest and best-stocked pen rooms I’ve ever seen.

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And a floor of custom paper that you can use to build your perfect notebook.

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I walked out with a second bottle of my favourite Kobe #51, four of the Sailor Studio inks, and a pen.

It was a wrench walking out without some Akkerman, the Pilot 100th anniversary inks, some Japan-only Nakabayashi inks, and frankly I wanted enough other stuff to bankrupt me and fill my suitcase ten times over. Itoya is heaven on earth.

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Maruzen

I headed to Maruzen Nihonbashi after a day’s work finished, and nearly missed the escalator down to the stationery section in the basement.

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I’m glad I found it. Maruzen if anything has an even better selection than Itoya.

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It was particularly interesting to see Onoto — Maruzen has a long-standing association, and indeed has a special store exclusive called “Maruzen the Pen”.

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I walked out with some notebooks from the astounding paper section.

The ink section was pretty special too. I took home a bottle of two store exclusives: Maruzen Athena Sepia and Eternal Blue.

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Bungubox

Finally got here on my last day — a beautiful little store tucked away in a wonderfully bustling and chic area of the city. I was geeking out massively to be here, since I adore both Ink of Witch and 4B, and I wasn’t disappointed.

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I visited with a colleague and we were welcomed with open arms by the owner Kaoru and her colleague. I was invited to try out pens loaded with samples of all the Bungubox inks, tried out some paper, and had a good look at the small but well-curated selection of pens on show too. Luckily for me the Fujiyama special edition is long gone, or I would for sure have bought one!

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Instead, I left with a bottle of First Love Sapphire and June Bride. I love the new bottles and the new packaging, which is much prettier and more functional than the old squat Sailor bottles. I also bought some Graphilo paper and some store exclusive paper made from plastic, which performed much better than I expected it to!

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All of course wrapped and bagged with love and care. I showed Kaoru the blog and she was very excited — I hope to be back! If you’re in Tokyo, don’t miss out on the chance to visit this gem of a store.

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Kyukyodo department store

This little department store in Ginza is very traditional, with lots of brushes, china and fans. But pens. Of course there are pens.

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Bic Camera

I went to a few of these monstrous stores, selling everything from rice cookers to toys to TVs to, yes, fountain pens. Utterly overwhelming! Random selection of pens. No staff. Gave it a pass.

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Barely scratching the surface

In the end I didn’t get to Kingdom Note, or many of the other stores stocking exclusive pens and ink. But nine bottles of ink and a brick of paper was probably enough of a souvenir.

Tokyo has so many great stationers, and both Itoya and Maruzen had range and quality exceeding any store I’d been in in the UK. The service is attentive, you can dip and write with even the expensive pens, and watching the care with which the assistants clean, pack, wrap and take payment is jaw-dropping. Every purchase felt special.

And of course as a visitor you don’t have to pay the 8% tax. Which helps.

Geeking out

But it wasn’t all pens. Tokyo gave me some memories I’ll never forget.

Like getting drunk on barley shochu in the tiny bars of Drunkard’s Alley:

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Or digging around in a store specialising in chopsticks, which sells 35,000 kinds ranging in price up to $10,000:

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Exploring the huge, sprawling shopping mall in Tokyo station, to find the Studio Ghibli store:

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Enjoying the little ways of life, like the unique toilets (!), and the convenience of vending machines for coffee (and everything else):

Stocking up on unusual snacks:

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Getting lost and overwhelmed in Akihabara, then enjoying some high culture in the Museum of Modern Art.

Taking in a traditional lunch of soba:

Before powering through 24 plates of sushi between two people:

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And gorging on ramen in tiny basement restaurants:

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The culture has so much to offer. My personal highlight was entering a visual dreamworld in TeamLab Borderless:

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After visiting a traditional tea plantation run by four generations of the same family:

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Standing in awe at the feet of the unicorn Gundam statue (better than the Godzilla one, incidentally):

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And going back in time to the Meiji shrine in its pristine park:

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I’m writing this post the night before I fly home, and I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed. If you’d asked me at any point in the past 15 years where I’d most like to visit, I’d have said ‘Japan’. And of course Japan treats stationery as a point of national pride. I was nervous about visiting Japan, and wondering whether the stationery side would potentially be disappointing too. But actually, everything about this trip has exceeded my expectations. The pen shops and the city of Tokyo are wonderlands.

15 thoughts on “Travels with pens: Japan concluded!

  1. Pingback: Travels with pens: Tokyo (part 1) | UK fountain pens

    • Good point that I missed — all the stationery shops are open until at least 8.30pm; many of the big general department stores, Bic etc are open until 10pm or later! It helps 🙂

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  2. Which ward/choma is Bungubox in?

    Is Drunken Alley by Shinjuku ? (in which case it’s also known as piss alley) – if so I could have recommended a popular locals tempura restaurant the other side of the station (if you’re ok with watching your food being killed in front of you).

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    • 4-chōme-8-6 Jingūmae, Shibuya City. Very cute hipster neighbourhood!

      And yes, the alley by Shinjuku. Quite the experience 🙂 Not so cool with the killing, since I’m vegetarian!

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  3. Last time in Tokyo I went to Tsunahachi, the restaurant in question, and also Ten-Ichi in Ginza, supposedly the top or one of the top tempura restaurants in the world – I much preferred the former though you saw the prawn, scallop and eel killed in front of you – so you knew it was truly fresh.

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  4. What a trip! Thanks so much for taking the time to write this up. Anyone who’s planning on visiting (like I am one of these days) will surely find it very helpful.

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  5. What an awesome review. You did a great job there. My hubby and I talked about going to Japan recently when we were discussing possible future vacations. Now Japan has moved way up on my list. I had always heard about their legendary stationery shops. Now I can actually visualize shopping there, thanks to your pics and descriptions of their awesome service.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: My Japan haul: ink, paper and more | UK fountain pens

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