Karuizawa, about 80 miles from Tokyo, is a small town nestled on the slopes of Mount Asama, an active volcano (because: Japan). Famous for its jams and honey, you could be forgiven for thinking this green, leafy, sleepy, place was outside of time and far removed from the world, but its fingerprint on history is larger than its diminutive size: it is the only place to have hosted events at both summer and winter olympics (Tokyo 1964, and Nagano 1998); welcomed Yoko Ono, Jon Lennon and family every summer; was where the current Emperor of Japan met his wife (playing tennis); and was the location from which was sent the telegram ending WWII.
Less momentously, my own family history runs long through Karuizawa. This was where my grandparents bought a house in the 1940s, where my mother and her siblings ran through the shaded gardens as Tokyo scorched beneath the scalding summer sun. My own children now play on that same moss, beneath those same trees, and so when I heard about Stylo-Art, a small pen-maker crafting their own creations in such an emotionally resonant location, I knew I had to visit.
Motoshi Kazuno and I first tried to arrange a meeting 18 months ago, but Karuizawa is noticeably less in demand as a ski resort than as a summer retreat, and the Kazunos were away visiting relatives. Time passed, and this week I was finally able to make the 30-minute journey through the mountains to the hamlet Motoshi and his wife Shuko call home. Anyone familiar with Japan will understand that this was not a simple undertaking - the address (a series of concentric zones culminating in a radius of a few blocks) dropped me in a semi-rural jumble, and it was only thanks to the photograph of the house kindly sent me by Shuko that I managed to stumble on the little plot and two-story building. I pulled my car onto their driveway (or perhaps their lawn), and waited for a sprightly, deceptively young man in a grey t-shirt to wander out to investigate. This was Motoshi Kazuno, Mr. Stylo-Art himself, and his welcome could not have been warmer.
I was invited in and, over iced green tea, learned of Motoshi's progression to pen-maker from salary-man in Tokyo, via existential angst and a short spell in carpentry. With great and well-placed pride he described how he had built, by hand, the home we now sat in as all the while, Shuko looked on with great affection. It is clear that she holds her husband's work in high esteem.
Shuko and Motoshi Kazuno, and their wood collection.
Throughout the living room were scattered trays of pens (most, apparently, being prepared for the upcoming San Francisco pen show) in a rainbow of colours and textures - woods and urushis - clean and ink-stained ("this one is washed with pilot blue black") - as well as maki-e work from "friends" in Wajima and Naoshima. I was led out to the workshop to see the array of woods neatly organised, the lathe and work-table, the frankly indecent collection of drill-bits ("my obsession") and was talked through the three days of work that leads to a completed pen.
The worktop (and a very few of the vast collection of drill-bits).
I must admit that, having browsed Stylo-Arts website, I was unmoved. All the pens seemed flat and lifeless, lacking any delicacy or soul. Nothing could have prepared me for the reality though, for the finished items are impeccably crafted with true care and attention, and each and every wood and embellishment has a unique character - a character carefully enhanced by Kazuno-sans respectful diligence.
Ink-stained and urushied pens (the ink used is for fountain pens, among them Pilot Blue-Black and Iroshizuku Momiji).
More ornate urushi.
Maki-e from Wajima and Naoshima (central two).
I fell in love with so many, but he urged me to hold and study each one individually and at length, to feel the weight and density of the material, to explore the depth of the pattern, the way it reflected or absorbed the light, even to raise each pen to my nose and inhale deeply. Over time, I managed to cull from the many to the few. It was the scent that finally swung me - Japanese cedar, light and delicately veined, its gorgeously pungent aroma reminiscent of the tatami mats of my family home, and of long, hot, steaming Japanese baths as the snow falls beyond the window.
My own shortlist. Note: the elastics denote different nib housing - grey for Pilot, red for Sailor 21k. The third from the left would become my pen.
Although Motoshi-san crafts pens to accept Pilot, Sailor and Platinum nibs, since Nagahara-sans death it has become increasingly difficult to purchase Sailor nibs in any meaningful quantity. My pen required a Pilot, and so Motoshi pulled from his desk a collection of no. 5, 10 and 15 nibs, and we proceeded, as the sun lowered in the sky and a faint rain fell upon the roof, to whittle them down to a no. 10 FA that he expertly smoothed and coaxed to my hand. It was with this pen that I wrote a quick note in the Stylo-Art visitors book, and learned, with some surprise, that I was the first gaijin (foreigner) to ever make the trip and meet Motoshi and Shuko in their home. The honour was entirely mine.
Motoshi working on my nib.
Edited by mongrelnomad, 31 July 2017 - 06:07.