“Optimal stopping” and the Namiki Urushi 20 / Yukari Royale

I read a book recently on algorithms, and it discussed a category of problems called “optimal stopping”. Optimal stopping is all about finding out when to, well, stop in a pursuit.

How many candidates do you interview for a job before making an offer? How many new restaurants in a city do you try before you start going back to old favourites? How many parking spaces do you pass on your way to a destination before grabbing one? How many people do you date before you settle down?

(It turns out that, given certain conditions, the answer is about 37% of the total pool).

So here’s one: how many fountain pens do you buy and sell before you decide you’ve found the best you’re gonna get?

I’m not sure of the number — I’ve bought and sold well over 100 pens — but I feel I may have found the highest peak yet in this journey with the Namiki Urushi 20.

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I ran a little experiment just now, writing a paragraph with about a dozen different pens from my collection.

This one is good, but feels a bit light and plasticky, nib is a little dry.

This one is better, but I can feel the closure mechanism under the fingers because the section is too short.

This one takes too many turns to get the cap off.

This one is great, nice section, but it’s a bit long, I can feel the weight pulling at the end of the pen.

This one is a bit narrow, I can feel my fingers pinching around the section.

This one is comfortable to hold, but has just a bit too much feedback in the nib.

And then I pick up the Yukari Royale, and I genuinely wouldn’t change a thing about the way it writes, or the way it feels in the hand. The comfort is simply perfect.

That’s kind of a spoiler, but bear with me.

The nib is a #6, which isn’t huge, but it’s long enough to keep my fingers away from the page.

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The section is just sublime: big enough, long enough, curved enough; threads soft and well out of the way. I feel relaxed and in control.

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The pen sits with enough weight to be solid, but not so much to be noticed with every word. It’s long enough to be comfortable but nothing feels pendulous.

And when time comes to write, the nib has cushioning and flows without hesitation. It’s smooth but not overpolished, wet but not a gusher, springy but not mushy.

It’s not just the comfort and the writing. In nearly all other respects it’s perfect, too. Sure, it uses the abominable CON-70 (the hardest-to-clean converter in the world), but as long as I don’t change inks frequently that’s no bother.

The urushi is flawless, simply flawless. The shape is so minimalist as to be zen. The clip is architectural.

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The threads are secure but easy to open. The brass beneath the urushi adds mass and coolness, which gradually warms to your hand.

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It is exactly the right length, exactly the right diameter, exactly the right weight, exactly the right proportions (for me, at least).

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To the point where I have started to look at most of the other pens I own in a new light.

I don’t love them any less — they all bring something different to the party and I enjoy the variety of using different pens — but suddenly they look less assured, less complete, more like a version 1.0 release, a sketch of a masterpiece from memory.

When you think about it, this is a staggering achievement for Namiki. I still hold my breath just a little when I uncap it and put pen to paper, afraid to break the spell.

I said nearly perfect. There’s a kind of soft flocked liner to the cap to stop it scratching the barrel, and who knows how long that will hold up.

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The colour of the red plastic feed looks a bit half-arsed.

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And yeah, the CON-70.

But where it counts, the Urushi 20 is just absolutely, totally, utterly sublime, and I’d have to be on the verge of losing my house to sell it.

How’s that for an endorsement?

13 thoughts on ““Optimal stopping” and the Namiki Urushi 20 / Yukari Royale

  1. Great opening with the concept of Optimal Stopping. I’ll have to look into that as it sounds very intriguing. I can’t imagine this is the end of the quest, though….

    Wow. The pen indeed sounds sublime, as you say, and it looks to have that combination of functional precision and aesthetic perfection that is mutually reinforcing, not one at the expense of the other, which is created only at the hands of a master craftsman. Nothing to add or take away (except maybe the converter) to make it better. When you see it all come together with such inevitable simplicity it belies how damned hard that is to achieve.

    While the MSRP here is $1500, the going price for these in the US is about $1200, which would still give one (me anyway) a fair bit of pause before indulging. Were you able to pick it up in Japan for much less than that, and were you able to give it a test drive at the store first?

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    • No, I doubt it’s the end of the quest! Optimal stopping is about when to make a decision between options — it doesn’t mean that there are no other decisions left to make :-D.

      The great thing about buying stationery in Japan is that they’re very happy for you to dip-test even the expensive pens. I asked, I had a chance to write with it, weigh it in my hands, and the decision was made almost immediately. I paid 128,000 JPY. Cheap? Hell no.

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      • Hmm, that converts to about the same price in USD, which is surprising as Japanese pens are reputed to be much less expensive when bought on home turf.
        I suppose it gets a pass from your new Austerity Program to focus on less expensive pens, unless by less expensive you set the bar compared to the more expensive options in the mfr lineup! Even though the Cohiba-sized Emperor is pricier, I would still put the Yukari Royale at the outer limits of my price consideration, and the Emperor beyond it.

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      • Yeah every single pen shop in Tokyo sells at RRP — there’s no discounting that I could see. The advantage was being able to see and try, and the great service.

        It was a special case!

        The Emperor was actually one of the pens that prompted my rethinking of ‘bigger is better’. The Yukari is big enough. The Emperor is just silly, unless you have bear paws. I didn’t even ask to hold the Emperor, I could see from the display that it’s way too big.

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    • I’ve written before that Pilot makes the worst converters in the world. The saving grace for me is that I don’t swap inks as much as I used to, so the maddening unflushability of the CON-70 doesn’t pain me as much as it did.

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      • That does make it a bit more bearable. I got some ink behind the piston on mine and it took forever to get it out. For a compnay that makes such good pens, I can’t fathom how they came to end up with such frustratingly awkward converters.

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      • Inspiring piece – It’s fantastic when you know you’ve found a pen that you love at the first encounter!

        I always quite liked the novelty and capacity of the CON-70. Having owned several, the only one to give trouble was in my 845, it suffered with ink behind the piston too. Given that it’s a 2007 pen (from the nib imprint) and maybe 10 years old when it happened I forgave it. Moreover I simply took it apart to clean and relube, it’s been fine since. Perhaps they don’t all do this but the collar below the button unscrews on mine allowing the piston to be withdrawn and dealt with in a few seconds.
        On the matter of the flock ring inside the cap, the 845 has the same. Apart from holding on to fluff occasionally it looks intact on my pen, I don’t post it though.

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  2. I understand your joy. I have a Pelikan M205 Aquamarine with a 14K M405 custom broad stub nib. I also own a Pelikan M200 Clear with a very similar nib. I have very small hands, and aside from being a perfect fit, these pens make writing pure joy. I do own more expensive pens, but none that give me more pleasure. I wouldn’t change a thing about either pen.

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  3. Pingback: State of the collection: August 2019 | UK fountain pens

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