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What Is The Japanese Fountain Pen Company Quality Hierarchy?


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47 replies to this topic

#1 punchy71

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 16:57

I am a newbie to Japanese fountain pens. What is generally considered to be the hierarchy of quality among Japanese fountain pen manufacturers, ranking the best quality at the top tier to lower quality at the bottom?

Thank you

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#2 bizhe

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 17:13

The big 3 are all good, you get good value at all price points.

#3 Strang

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 17:18

You're going to get a lot of different answers to this question. And, when all is said and done, it comes down to opinion. Pesonally, I rank them Nakaya/Platinum, Namiki/Pilot, Sailor. Others will rank them exactly opposite. Others still will put Pilot first. My suggestion is buy one of each and make your own decision. They are all great pens (I have multiples of each and love them all.) Unless you are buying the lowest entry-level pens, it's hard to go wrong with any of these three.
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#4 professionaldilettante

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 17:39

You're going to get a lot of different answers to this question. And, when all is said and done, it comes down to opinion. Pesonally, I rank them Nakaya/Platinum, Namiki/Pilot, Sailor. Others will rank them exactly opposite. Others still will put Pilot first. My suggestion is buy one of each and make your own decision. They are all great pens (I have multiples of each and love them all.) Unless you are buying the lowest entry-level pens, it's hard to go wrong with any of these three.

Thank you for the truthful reply. I have to agree with this. The big three have been named, but even my order would be different, just because my experience has been biased. I've never handled a Sailor, only a medium tier Platinum pen, and Pilots all over. I have no doubt that each of these companies have models that are equals, in terms of quality and price, so I'd be hardpressed to put them in any specific order. They are like triplets. All about the same in terms of what they can do, but vastly different in what they offer so that each company is unique on their own.
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#5 punchy71

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 17:43

I'm assuming Nakaya/Platinum, Namiki/Pilot, Sailor are considered to be the "Big Three" (even though I count five trade names in there)?

#6 Kimo

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 18:41

Nakaya and Platinum are essentially the same company. Platinum was founded in 1919 though the original name of the company was Nakaya. Later, the name was changed to the Platinum Pen Company. The current president of Platinum is Toshihiro Nakata who is the son of the founder of the original Platinum company. The old Nakaya name was revived a few years ago.

Pilot and Namiki are essentially the same company. Namiki is owned by Pilot and they sell pens under both names. They also make some pens for Dunhill. Pilot also makes ink under a couple of brand names, including Iroshizuku.

There is no best maker of fountain pens by these big three - it is all personal choice as to which you prefer. However, in my opinion there is no question about the highest quality ink to put in them or any other fountain pen and that is Iroshizuku.








Namiki and Pilot are the same company.

#7 PatientType

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Posted 21 January 2012 - 19:06

The big 3 are all good, you get good value at all price points.


I agree. There is no "best." All three companies produce fountain pens that offer very good quality in relation to their cost. On the other hand, you will find that each company's pens differ in character and feel.

In selecting a fountain pen you will want to choose an instrument that meets your preferences and needs. If you like a butter smooth nib, for example, you may want to try the Sailor pens. If you prefer a nib that gives you a little feedback Platinum might be the better choice. Pilot pens are of very good quality and often innovative in their design, from the all-one-piece nib and barrel of the M90 to the large capacity vacuum ink filling mechanism of the 823.

#8 Triplet Mom

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 00:51

You're going to get a lot of different answers to this question. And, when all is said and done, it comes down to opinion. Pesonally, I rank them Nakaya/Platinum, Namiki/Pilot, Sailor. Others will rank them exactly opposite. Others still will put Pilot first. My suggestion is buy one of each and make your own decision. They are all great pens (I have multiples of each and love them all.) Unless you are buying the lowest entry-level pens, it's hard to go wrong with any of these three.

Thank you for the truthful reply. I have to agree with this. The big three have been named, but even my order would be different, just because my experience has been biased. I've never handled a Sailor, only a medium tier Platinum pen, and Pilots all over. I have no doubt that each of these companies have models that are equals, in terms of quality and price, so I'd be hardpressed to put them in any specific order. They are like triplets. All about the same in terms of what they can do, but vastly different in what they offer so that each company is unique on their own.


I LOVE that you compared them to triplets, professionaldilettante!! And I also agree with you and Strang. All of them are great in their own ways! My personal order would be Nakaya, Pilot, Sailor.

Edited by Triplet Mom, 22 January 2012 - 00:53.

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#9 ExcaliburZ

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 03:04

Nayaka does customization and Platinum is the family and have excellent nibs and some unique pen designs, Pilot has semi-flex nibs (Falcon nib, Soft nibs), Sailor has a lot of specialty nibs unique to them (Condor, Cobra).
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#10 XiaoMG

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 03:49

Two quick comparisons, from my limited and biased experiences...
If pens were cameras, Pilot would be Canon, Sailor would be Nikon, and Platinum would be Olympus or Panasonic.

If pens were pencils, Pilot would be Mitsubishi, Sailor would be Tombow, and Platinum would be Pentel.

Then again, anyone could come up with such arbitrary associations. Don't assume mine is at all true or valuable.

Edited by XiaoMG, 22 January 2012 - 03:49.

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#11 genls

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 04:54

I am a newbie to Japanese fountain pens. What is generally considered to be the hierarchy of quality among Japanese fountain pen manufacturers, ranking the best quality at the top tier to lower quality at the bottom?

Thank you


In my opinion the 3 companies (Sailor, Pilot, Platinum) are exactly equal in quality. Their pens are all well made and have excellent quality control. Their nibs also all tend to be ground well, and are unlikely to be defective out of the box.

I have always thought of Namiki to be the luxury brand of Pilot (like how Lexus is the luxury brand of Toyota, or Acura for Honda), and Nakaya/Nakata to be the luxury brand of Platinum. Correct me if I'm wrong. To my knowledge, Sailor doesn't have a separate luxury brand. Of course, all fountain pens can be considered to be luxuries nowadays on account of their quality of manufacture and price.

I agree that the M90 and 823 from Pilot are innovative designs. However, compared to other countries overall, I find Japanese pens to be relatively conservative in design (and appearance). Sure, the $10,000 Namiki Emperors are colorful, but they in terms of design are no more sophisticated than an entry level converter-filling pen. Some more inventive designs in my opinion are seen in European pens, such as the Lamy Dialog 3 (German), Stipula Passaporto (Italian), and many Visconti pens (also Italian).

Edited by genls, 22 January 2012 - 05:04.


#12 AltecGreen

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 05:54

I have always thought of Namiki to be the luxury brand of Pilot (like how Lexus is the luxury brand of Toyota, or Acura for Honda), and Nakaya/Nakata to be the luxury brand of Platinum. Correct me if I'm wrong. To my knowledge, Sailor doesn't have a separate luxury brand. Of course, all fountain pens can be considered to be luxuries nowadays on account of their quality of manufacture and price.

I agree that the M90 and 823 from Pilot are innovative designs. However, compared to other countries overall, I find Japanese pens to be relatively conservative in design (and appearance). Sure, the $10,000 Namiki Emperors are colorful, but they in terms of design are no more sophisticated than an entry level converter-filling pen. Some more inventive designs in my opinion are seen in European pens, such as the Lamy Dialog 3 (German), Stipula Passaporto (Italian), and many Visconti pens (also Italian).




Nakaya is technically a separate incorporated company. It was started by Toshiya Nakata with his own money and a loan from Platinum. Of course, since the craftsman at Nakaya are all ex-platinum employees there is intellectual overlap and probably some sort of sharing agreement. The lines have been further blurred since 2009 when Toshihiro Nakata (Toshiya's father) passed away and Toshiya assumed the role of President of Platinum as well as being the president of Nakaya. Platinum sell urushi pens, high end maki-e pens, etc. under the Platinum name. Thus I would not say Nakaya is the luxury brand of Platinum.

The Namiki/Pilot situation is a bit different. Pilot was first founded as Namiki Manufacturing (the family name of the founder) in 1918 but was changed to the Pilot Co. in 1938. The company has been Pilot since then. The name Namiki has uneven usage and depends on the territory. Today, Namiki is used to refer only to the maki-e and urushi pens in Japan. In the US, Namiki was used as the name for the high end pens as well as regular pens like the VP. You end up with weird conventions in the US like Namiki being associated with the black resin Falcon (aka Elabo) but the newer metal versions are associated with Pilot.

One can certainly think of Namiki as the high end brand since the maki-e pens are associated with the Namiki name. This is probably due to the important and long standing association with Dunhill in 1927 long before the company name was changed to Pilot. I tend to think of Namiki as a marketing name.

People forget that until just recently (2005) Lexus did not exist in Japan. The cars sold as Lexus in the US were all Toyota models. For example, The Lexus IS is a Toyota Altezza. In 2005, Lexus was spun off as a separate company and was introduced to Japan.

Sailor is just Sailor and like Platinum has a full range of pens from cheap pens to full maki-e models. However, Sailor does have a division that makes industrial robots.


Since I'm nitpicking about analogies, Tombow and Pentel both make fountain pens and Pilot, Platinum, and Sailor all make mechanical pencils.



BTW-The Namiki Emperor is not a C/C pen. It is a Japanese ED pen with a shut off valve. Not quite that simple.

Edited by AltecGreen, 22 January 2012 - 05:55.

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#13 mongrelnomad

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 06:28

The big 3 are all excellent. Though I have not used one (though I intend to purchase one next time I am in Japan), Hakase is supposed to be a cut above.
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#14 Lloyd

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Posted 22 January 2012 - 08:15

Gee...I thought Sailor was the best since they produce the Hello Kitty pen.
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#15 kernando

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Posted 23 January 2012 - 01:11

Even better, Sailor made/makes a second Hello Kitty model. They should do one in the Daks Simpson line, if they can convince the companies to license the combination, and then they could have a HK tartan pen with a HK in tartan skirt set.

I think from Pilot, you'd only get V-Pens/Varsities with Hello Kitty. Maybe Nakaya would do a maki-e commission.
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#16 grahamtillotson

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Posted 23 January 2012 - 01:15

What about the lower-end companies? Chinese I guess, but what about the Hero pens and all those? I'd be interested to know the quality rankings for the lower end too.

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#17 ethernautrix

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Posted 23 January 2012 - 01:22

Even better, Sailor made/makes a second Hello Kitty model. They should do one in the Daks Simpson line, if they can convince the companies to license the combination, and then they could have a HK tartan pen with a HK in tartan skirt set.

I think from Pilot, you'd only get V-Pens/Varsities with Hello Kitty. Maybe Nakaya would do a maki-e commission.


Oo! A cherry blossom pink Nakaya? I hope Ricky wants one and orders it! I think that could be very pretty -- just the sakura urushi.

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#18 Black-Ink

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Posted 23 January 2012 - 01:22

1327220134[/url]' post='2223664']
Gee...I thought Sailor was the best since they produce the Hello Kitty pen.
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No contest for kitty lovers.

#19 ethernautrix

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Posted 23 January 2012 - 01:25

On topic - Yes, I'll agree with everyone who said that the differences were minimal. The high quality is there with all three manufacturers, so it's a question of aesthetics. Me, I love Nakaya's urushi, so that's my favorite, but I wouldn't say that the overall quality was higher than Sailor or Pilot. No, wait, yes, I would, because these urushi pens are all handcrafted and flawless and gorgeous and functional, so, yes, that's my answer. Nakaya first.

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#20 fabrimedeiros

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Posted 23 January 2012 - 02:19


I have always thought of Namiki to be the luxury brand of Pilot (like how Lexus is the luxury brand of Toyota, or Acura for Honda), and Nakaya/Nakata to be the luxury brand of Platinum. Correct me if I'm wrong. To my knowledge, Sailor doesn't have a separate luxury brand. Of course, all fountain pens can be considered to be luxuries nowadays on account of their quality of manufacture and price.

I agree that the M90 and 823 from Pilot are innovative designs. However, compared to other countries overall, I find Japanese pens to be relatively conservative in design (and appearance). Sure, the $10,000 Namiki Emperors are colorful, but they in terms of design are no more sophisticated than an entry level converter-filling pen. Some more inventive designs in my opinion are seen in European pens, such as the Lamy Dialog 3 (German), Stipula Passaporto (Italian), and many Visconti pens (also Italian).




Nakaya is technically a separate incorporated company. It was started by Toshiya Nakata with his own money and a loan from Platinum. Of course, since the craftsman at Nakaya are all ex-platinum employees there is intellectual overlap and probably some sort of sharing agreement. The lines have been further blurred since 2009 when Toshihiro Nakata (Toshiya's father) passed away and Toshiya assumed the role of President of Platinum as well as being the president of Nakaya. Platinum sell urushi pens, high end maki-e pens, etc. under the Platinum name. Thus I would not say Nakaya is the luxury brand of Platinum.

The Namiki/Pilot situation is a bit different. Pilot was first founded as Namiki Manufacturing (the family name of the founder) in 1918 but was changed to the Pilot Co. in 1938. The company has been Pilot since then. The name Namiki has uneven usage and depends on the territory. Today, Namiki is used to refer only to the maki-e and urushi pens in Japan. In the US, Namiki was used as the name for the high end pens as well as regular pens like the VP. You end up with weird conventions in the US like Namiki being associated with the black resin Falcon (aka Elabo) but the newer metal versions are associated with Pilot.

One can certainly think of Namiki as the high end brand since the maki-e pens are associated with the Namiki name. This is probably due to the important and long standing association with Dunhill in 1927 long before the company name was changed to Pilot. I tend to think of Namiki as a marketing name.

People forget that until just recently (2005) Lexus did not exist in Japan. The cars sold as Lexus in the US were all Toyota models. For example, The Lexus IS is a Toyota Altezza. In 2005, Lexus was spun off as a separate company and was introduced to Japan.

Sailor is just Sailor and like Platinum has a full range of pens from cheap pens to full maki-e models. However, Sailor does have a division that makes industrial robots.


Since I'm nitpicking about analogies, Tombow and Pentel both make fountain pens and Pilot, Platinum, and Sailor all make mechanical pencils.



BTW-The Namiki Emperor is not a C/C pen. It is a Japanese ED pen with a shut off valve. Not quite that simple.

Japanese pens are not my cup of tea, however it's always nice to learn a bit more. No one encyclopedia would have such a great info.






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