As is my way, I went to Japan with an exhaustively researched shopping list. I knew which items I wanted to investigate, I knew where was likely to stock them, and I knew roughly how much they were going to cost. But I still gave myself a few surprises.
Tokyo is the home of Japan-exclusive inks, most made by Sailor. I knew I would come home with a good few bottles, and I wasn’t wrong.
Pro tip: take a load of ziplock bags with you in case bottles leak in your suitcase!
Kobe #51: Kobe inks are not that hard to get hold of in the UK and US, but I knew I needed a backup bottle of my favourite #51, Kano-Cho Midnight. I wanted one or more other Kobe inks, but I restrained myself.
Sailor Studio: Since Mountain of Ink has started reviewing this intimidating list of 100 inks, my want list grew ever longer. I already have two bottles of 123, my clear favourite from the range, so I restricted myself to just three bottles.
140 is a pale, dusty blue with good shading. I may not end up using it that much because I have found it just that bit too light. 770 is a yellow, and a bit of a departure for me — I’m trying to push my comfort zone. 130 is a delicate pink, a colour that I’m starting to get into, although I loaded it into the fine-nibbed Oldwin and the line is not appealing.
All of the above were bought from Itoya Ginza.
Bungubox: I already have Ink of Witch, a very dark purple/black, and 4B, a lovely blue-black. I thought I needed to push my comfort zone a little, and I looked again at the browns, greens, reds and pinks in the Bungubox palette.
But it was First Love Sapphire that I had to get, mainly for the back-story — it’s an attempt to create the long-discontinued Parker Penman Sapphire. June Bride Something Blue was next into my hand, a green-tinged aqua turquoise that was a little different to my usual preferences.
The new Bungubox bottles are like miniature Montblanc shoes, and I like them a lot — but at more than 3,000 yen per bottle, these are not cheap inks. So I limited myself to two.
Maruzen: From Maruzen I picked up the most famous of its in-house brand Athena inks, Sepia and Eternal Blue. Eternal Blue goes down fairly wet and dries faded; I quite like it but it doesn’t wow me. I have a million mid-blues like this.
What does wow me is the gem-like tall bottle. Athena Sepia comes in a squatter cylindrical bottle, and it’s not quite what I was expecting. It’s a darker brown, which runs wet. I like it, but I don’t find myself using brown inks that much.
I have said before that I’m not a Pilot man. I find its nibs too glassy smooth, and often on the dry side, lacking in character. And, I’m afraid to say, I find the bodies a bit plasticky. Well. I may not be a Pilot man, but I am a Namiki man. From Itoya I purchased a Urushi 20, also known as the Yukari Royale, in vermillion red. It’s a captivating pen, almost featureless; its body and cap are seamless and bullet-ended, in brightest red urushi over brass. The gold clip leaps from the surface with no seam or ring.
The edge of the cap is ringed with the thinnest gold. The cap unscrews on urushi-coated threads, revealing a long section and a #6-sized, 18k nib, decorated with Mount Fuji and a tablet-shaped breather hole, paired with a red plastic feed. Inside is a CON-70 converter and brass threads.
The nib is a joy. It writes a true medium line, with no hesitation and generous flow. It has good bounce and a little feedback. It feels completely unlike the #15 medium I had in my Pilot 823, or any of the #10 nibs I had in my 91s and 92s.
I wasn’t expecting to like the Urushi 20 when I tried it — I thought its brass body would be too heavy, or the barrel be too big or too long, and most of all I thought it would be bad to write with. But I loved it from the first line, and I took only about 15 seconds to decide. I think this pen is in the running for the Platonic Ideal of fountain pens.
My hunt for a second Nakaya was a little less decisive.
Nakayas come in many different shapes, sizes and colours, and I knew I wanted something different from my Heki-Tamenuri clipped Decapod. In reality I knew I wanted a longer section, but that limits things a lot. The Neo-Standard would fit the bill, but it has single-start threads. The Long Piccolo is only available from Aesthetic Bay. And that left just the Long Cigar or Long Writer.
As I looked around, I saw few Nakayas, and most were the clipped Writer version. But Maruzen had a Long Cigar in the black and red Kuro-Tamenuri finish, and again I tried it with mixed expectations. It felt remarkably different from my Decapod — much larger and longer. But the medium nib was perfect from the first word on the page, and again I knew this one was coming home with me.
I’m a Tomoe River loyalist, but even so I thought I would let my hair down and experiment.
I bought a Tomoe River notebook from Maruzen, mainly out of sense of duty — it was the only place I actually saw any Tomoe for sale! Mostly places like Bic Camera carried Campus and Kokuyo and Mnemosyne paper. At the same time I took a chance on a Maruzen A5 notepad, lined for letter writing. It felt good enough between my fingers.
From Bungubox I picked up a slim A5 notebook with Graphilo paper, for about £6 — around half of what the last one from Anderson Pens cost me. I also took the plunge on a shop-exclusive A5 notepad made from thin sheets of plastic. The drying times were a little long, but the page feel was fantastic. At £10, I thought I would try it!
What did I miss out on?
With two pen purchases under my belt, I put all the expensive pens out of my mind — although I was keen on a Pilot Custom Urushi with its huge #30 nib, which everyone seems to love. I thought about getting another Pilot 823, or a 912 FA, but resisted — leave the past behind, as they say.
I mostly was craving a shop-exclusive Sailor Pro Gear or Realo, such as the Fujiyama Blue edition from Bungubox or a Kingfisher. But I only saw a few such custom editions, like the green tea version in Bungubox, and none called to me.
I would have liked to get some B5 paper, and ideally a lot more Tomoe. But I think I got a pretty good haul, and it’s not like I don’t have a stack of paper at home already and a weight limit on the plane…
On the ink front, I would have loved to get to Kingdom Note and pick up eggplant or one of the sea creature series, or maybe something Japan-themed such as one of the Tale of Genji inks. But the samples I saw online were a little uninspiring.
I’m still on the hunt for a perfect green that can beat Edelstein Aventurine and my own custom mixes, such as Kobe #34 Sorakuen tea green, but that’ll have to wait for the next trip. I am however gutted that I didn’t get back to Itoya to pick up one of the Nakabayashi inks, again made by Sailor, which feature beautiful Japanese artwork on their boxes, such as the wave by Hokusai.
Next time, perhaps…