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I Long For Stationery In Kyoto

stationery japan tokyo kyoto ink tag kyoto ink bobje

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#1 Bobje

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Posted 24 July 2018 - 17:01

fpn_1532451375__hakusan-shrine-800px.jpg

 

In one of the world's largest cities, there always seems to be a place to take a break. At the Hakusan Shinto shrine in Tokyo. 

 

 

A week in Japan makes me think stationery stores are the retail urban planning equivalent of zen gardens. They provide an analog break in days filled with digital noise.

 

We have only a few stores left in the United States, in Appleton, Wis., and Little Rock, Ark., of all places, and Houston, and Nashville, and another north of Pittsburgh. A couple in New York and New Jersey. Two in Maryland and one in Washington, DC, and that’s about it.

 

I’m probably leaving out a couple, but my point is that in a really big country, there are fewer than a dozen bricks-and-mortar stationery stores. Unless you count Staples and OfficeMax, which are great for laserjet paper, printer cartridges, and office chairs.

 

Japan, on the other hand, is stationery mecca. I was in meetings in Osaka where team leaders handed out agendas and summaries in elegant transparent folders, and erasable gel ink pens, and we realized that every one of us around the table was a geek who, in elementary school, undoubtedly loved the fragrance of promise and hope in a new box of yellow No. 2 pencils.

 

Kyoto

 

In Kyoto, the spiritual heart of Japan, there are more than 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines. TAG’s headquarters stationery store is in Kyoto, and there are five other TAG shops around the city, filled with paper for calligraphy and art projects and school assignments, and racks of washi tape and fountain pens. Kyoto specialists in natural dyes, who got their training in textiles, created the TAG line of inks. Remember indigo? Around 900 AD, people in the imperial court of Keian in Heian-kyō, the former name for Kyoto, fermented leaves to produce indigo. I digress, but here’s my point: if you really like writing, it’s entirely possible that, like Matsuo Basho, your heart is in Kyoto.

 

On a walk through the Arashiyama bamboo grove, I’m talking with a friend about how Japan offers up so many details that would make great visual pauses in films. Breathing space. They’re like the short musical interludes, sometimes called buttons, in radio news broadcasts. She asks why I like calligraphy. It’s an analog break from digital chores, I tell her, and she responds, “Oh, like a button.” A few meters away, we walk by a home where the poet Matsuo Basho hung out with one of his students.

 

Even in Kyoto --

Hearing the cuckoo’s cry --

I long for Kyoto.

-- Matsuo Basho

 

Tokyo

 

One of the great things about Tokyo is that even though it’s one of the 10 largest cities in the world, with almost 14 million people, there always seems to be a green place to take a break -- a playground or a garden, a bench on a shady patch of street, or a shrine with a fountain for prayer. Stationery shops are air-conditioned and filled with students and bookish people, and they are wonderful quiet spaces. I found myself in two of them, the Maruzen bookstore, located a hundred meters from Tokyo’s central station, and the TAG store on Tennouzu Isle.

 

Maruzen is a Japanese chain, and half a floor in the main Tokyo store is devoted to stationery, pens, and inks. Lovely display cases show pens from global brands as though they are objects in a museum, all, it seems, at retail list price. But a section of ink is tucked away on one side of the pens, a closet full of colors from Pilot, Platinum, Sailor, Montblanc, Faber-Castell, and Pelikan. Hiding away in one corner are inks made for Maruzen by Sailor -- Athena sepia, and renga, an urushi red. They’re considered unobtainable everywhere else. I buy them both, again at retail price, which in the case of Japanese inks is 30 percent less than everywhere else. The notebook section offers funky composition notebooks by a brand called nanuk. I’m not sure if the paper works well with fountain pens, but they have a sample copy for testing. At the pen counter, a salesperson helpfully pulls out a Platinum Preppy pen, and as it turns out, nanuk paper is terrific.

 

On the late afternoon of another unbelievably hot July day, I stumble upon the TAG stationery store on Tennouzu Isle, just off the monorail to Tokyo’s Haneda airport. The store offers envelopes and paper in pastel patterns of coral and indigo, designed for writing letters, lined or unlined. The store manager is playing an entire Beatles album -- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band -- and for 20 minutes, I’m lost in a bliss of washi paper and “I’ve got to admit, it’s getting better.”

 

Then, it gets better. Next to the cashier there’s a display of every TAG Kyoto ink, from Moonlight of Higashiyama, a brick red, to Aonibi, a blue-black. The manager gives me a pen with a glass nib for testing ink. (Let me repeat that -- they keep a glass-nibbed pen for testing inks.) I realize that one ink, Nurebairo, is a black that shades blue, with a subtle golden halo sheen. When I’m confused about whether Nurebairo actually shades blue, she explains that it depends on whether the paper is cream or stark white. Then she wraps it up, adds it to my other purchases, and agrees with me about The Beatles. I walk out onto a boardwalk and as the sun sets on Tokyo Bay, I eat a wagyu hamburger with an old friend.


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#2 requiescat

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Posted 24 July 2018 - 18:04

Thank you for this beautiful, poetic post.  I have only visited Japan once but I remember how magical it was to walk through Itoya, even if I didn't buy any pens that trip.



#3 TMLee

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Posted 26 July 2018 - 00:57

Wonderful read.

Japan, fascinating always.

Kyoto, beautiful ancient city of contrasting textures, old and new.
😊

#4 TMLee

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Posted 26 July 2018 - 00:59

Did you go Asakusa?

Really old stationery shop within temple compound.

#5 Bobje

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Posted 27 July 2018 - 12:07

Requiescat, TMLee, thank you. I am looking forward to Itoya and stationery in Asakusa on another trip. What did you enjoy about them?

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#6 gerigo

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Posted 27 July 2018 - 17:02

Lovely evocative read. Really captures the unique place that Japan is. Yes it's a society that is obsessed with the future, at the same time holding on to defining cultural practices of the past. I love it so much that I try to visit Tokyo every year, only because I need to stop over on the way home to Asia.



#7 LuckyKate

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Posted 29 July 2018 - 17:57

A beautiful post. This forum has really fed my passion for all things Japanese.  I have never been to Japan but one day I will, and when I do I will go to Kyoto. 



#8 Bobje

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Posted 08 September 2018 - 09:05

This blog post on “Check Please’ explores the connection between cafes and fountain shops at iconic stationery venues in Tokyo. Extremely well reported!

https://checkplease....-fountain-pens/

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#9 Herrjaeger

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Posted 08 September 2018 - 17:05

I missed your original post, but was delighted with it when I read it today: so descriptive, and it reminded me of things I enjoyed on a trip to Nagano prefecture in the late 1990’s. We took a side trip to the small chestnut growing town of Obuse to visit the Hokusai museum and the Suzuki Bonsai museum. As marvelous as those were, one of the most memorable experiences I had was browsing about a small stationery store in Obuse, which was filled with the most beautiful papers, as well as items made from paper, including masks and toys made from paper pulp, then painted in extraordinary detail. I never visited any of the large stationers in Tokyo or Kyoto, but I can’t imagine what they had to offer given what I saw in the small store in Obuse. I did learn a good bit about the importance of paper and wrapping/presentation to the Japanese culture, which I also understand is a significant problem for the government there as it impacts on their landfills. People are reluctant to change their habits as far as wrapping things is concerned, and they are running out of room for landfills. Thanks for posting these-another nice “button.”

#10 mongrelnomad

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Posted 09 September 2018 - 16:08

Lovely post, but Tokyo is, by far, the world's largest city. The metro area numbers 30 million souls. It is no small wonder that it functions as efficiently as it does, and that it sounds, and indeed smells, so damn good.

Edited by mongrelnomad, 09 September 2018 - 16:09.

Too many pens; too little writing.

#11 Tinjapan

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Posted 10 September 2018 - 06:16

Did you go Asakusa?

Really old stationery shop within temple compound.


REALLY!? Where? Asakusa has a long history with me, oredating my interest in FPs by a couple of decades, but I do not recall a single stationery store with in the temple grounds. Please let me know where it is.

#12 Tinjapan

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Posted 10 September 2018 - 06:19

Taking my kid to Kyoto this weekend. Hope to stop by TAG’s main store and other stationery shops. Did you notice if the TAG stores carried Kyoto celluloid pens?

#13 TMLee

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Posted 11 September 2018 - 00:59

REALLY!? Where? Asakusa has a long history with me, oredating my interest in FPs by a couple of decades, but I do not recall a single stationery store with in the temple grounds. Please let me know where it is.


The name of the shop is called Kurodaya. You can google for directions.
Hope you enjoy your visit there as i have 😊

#14 Tinjapan

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Posted 11 September 2018 - 05:50

The name of the shop is called Kurodaya. You can google for directions.
Hope you enjoy your visit there as i have


Thanks!

Will do!

#15 Tinjapan

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Posted 11 September 2018 - 05:56

Just found Kurodaya on line. Silly me, I do know the store and know it well. Long onr of my favorites dating back to my first visit there in 1992. Rightly or wrongly, probably wrongly, I seperate washi and stationery stores into different catogories. While I do occasionally find brush rests that work nicely as FP pen pillows, I rarely find any FP related stuff in the washi stores.

Thanks though. And I endorse your recommendation. Great store, though always very crowded when I visit it.

#16 Bobje

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Posted 11 September 2018 - 11:36

Wow, this is a distinction that I did not know existed. What is the difference between a washi store and a stationery store? Is there a certain type of washi store that only sells washi papers and washi-related items? What is it like?

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#17 Tinjapan

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Posted 11 September 2018 - 12:08

“Washi” means “Japanese paper” “Wa—-“ orften means “Japanese something or other”. “Wagyu” is “Japanese beef” for another example.

A so called (by me) “washi store” will carry washi for a variety of purposes. These include various traditional arts and crafts such as brush writing, sumi painting, origami and various other paper cratfs. They often will also carry brushes, ink (sumi), inkstones, brush stands, brush hangers, water pots for grinding ink and other non writing paper items such as sensu (folding fans). In the past several years, some of my favorite “washi stores” have begun carrying a small selection of FPs and FP ink.

Stationery stores are usually what we would find anywhere in the world, although ones in Japan often have a much larger selection of stationery items. Here you’ll find what remains the largest selection of different kinds of ball pens and mechanical pencils. Additionally, a wide selection of note books, letter sets, file folders, file boxes, hole punches, receipt books, what we’d expect to find in a stationery store, often including FPs and FP inks.

Often, these two are side by side but a clear demarkation is observable even if a bit comingled for an aisle or two.

At least this how I have observed them.

#18 Bobje

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Posted 13 September 2018 - 16:57

As if it were even possible, now I am even more impressed with the culture of Japanese stationery. Thank you so much for this useful distinction, Tinjapan!


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#19 Tinjapan

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Posted 13 September 2018 - 23:57

Bobje,

Did you happen to notice if there were any Kyoto celluloid pens at TAG’s main store?

#20 Bobje

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Posted 14 September 2018 - 01:03

Sorry, no, did not look for them. What a breathtakingly lovely city.

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