I have a question about Japanese design, i.e., what do Japanese people actually like in a pen? I'm getting more and more interested in Japanese design and from what I can see, there seems to be a certain "dicothomy" in design styles, not just in terms of pens.
In a way, it seems to me that there is something that we "Westerners" like and associate with Japanese design, namely, the minimalist-looking, Zen-ish stuff such as this, this, or, to stay in the field of pens, this, or, more broadly speaking, this kind of aesthetics. This seems to be reflected in a lot of high-end Japanese pens, such as Nakayas, Hakase, the Namiki Emperor series, the Sailor King of Pens, and pretty much everything that is urushi-coated or maki-e: very minimalistic design, maybe with highly elaborated decorations, but on very plain background. We're all quite familiar with this kind of aesthetics from movies, books, and of course, drooling over pictures of amazing urushi pens that most of us probably cannot afford. I'll call this the "Samurai" tendency. However, my theory is that this is probably not what Japanese people really like/want/seek.
This is because if one looks at what Japanese companies offer in terms of mid-to-high-range pens (i.e., below the level of things like the Sailor KOP or the Namiki Emperor, but within the range of what most people can probably afford), it's hard to stumble across anything minimalistic/Zen-ish: look at the range of Pilot customs, or Sailor's pens. Everywhere one sees a lot of gold hardware, a clear reference to Western pen design, re-interpreted in a form that remains rather unique, without the ostentatious design of, say, a MB 149, an Omas or a Pelikan M800: Japanese pens tend to be smaller (probably only the larger Pilot Customs or the Platinum President can compete with the MB 149 in length), very rarely show off their logos, and sometimes have rather "kitsch" details (such as the new clips on Sailor pens or the clip of the Platinum President, or the cap band on the Sailor king professional gear) or use colour combinations that are either long out-of-fashion in the West, or are of questionable taste to say the least. I'll call this the "Businessman" tendency.
So, considering that...
- The current Japanese aesthetic seems to be more oriented towards the post-modern (and the Kawaii) style than the traditional styles usually associated to Japan;
- There are probably 1.000 "businessman" Pro Gear with their kitsch cap band sold for every super-elegant minimalistic "samurai" Namiki Emperor Urushi, even though...
- ... minimalist/"Zen" design is not necessarily more expensive (quite the opposite: look at LAMY!) and could therefore be easily used on mid-to-high-range-end pens; urushi is not always needed, after all;
- There seems to be a lot more variety in the design of mid-to-high-range pens, looking at least at the experiments done by Sailor on their Sapporo/Pro Gear lines;
- Maki-e coated pens were initially popularized by Dunhill for the Western market;
- Companies such as Danitrio and Nakaya that clearly target primarily the non-Japanese market specialize in "Samurai" design;
- The pens in maki-e and urushi seem to have boomed in the period of the Japanese economic stagnation after 1991, when the internal market contracted and manufacturers had to look for alternatives;
...I tend to believe that a Japanese person would probably prefer something like a Pilot 845, with its 6 (six!) gold rings, than a plain Sailor KOP, regardless of the price, and probably sees our beloved "Samurai" pens as something that "only foreigners like".
I'm talking here of what people like, not what people can afford. After all, if the "Samurai" style really were the "best" in terms of tastes in Japan, shouldn't we see a lot more pens being offered in minimalist designs? Shouldn't we see Platinum, Sailor and Pilot behave more like Lamy or Faber Castell, with their cheaper, affordable Studio or Ondoro lines?
Maybe I'm just talking nonsense, but I'd love to hear what you think about this (especially if you are Japanese or live there).