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Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla


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#1 Rincewind

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 12:39

A few years ago, when I first got into 'real' fountain pens, a new phenomenon came to market from Japan: the hand-crafted Nakaya fountain pen. Much was made of the traditional ebonite barrel construction, the months-long process of coating the finest of these pens with the traditional Japanese urushi lacquer, and the hand-adjusted nibs ("for your hand only" was the marketing catchphrase).

The much-lauded (by pen enthusiasts) Nakaya became a legend in its own lunchtime, and was placed upon a pedestal as the ultimate in Japanese pen craftsmanship, which was justified to some extent if you were seeking a fine hand-crafted writing instrument made by traditional Japanese methods and with a distinct air of Zen about it. But in terms of its writing abilities, it has to be said that the Nakaya pen was little different from the Platinum pens to which it was closely related, having borrowed their nib, feed and cartridge-converter filling system. Nonetheless, it went on to occupy what was then a unique niche market, and diversified to fill that niche with a range of models still popular today.

Wind on a few years and Nakaya has competition in the 'Zen pen' field, most notably from a relatively 'new kid on the block', the US company Danitrio, which has evolved to combine American marketing savvy with the work of European nib makers and skilled Japanese craftsmen and artists. While Danitrio has a smaller range of product, its standards of manufacture are still high and it has achieved a strong reputation as a high end pen manufacturer within the online fountain pen community, especially due the efforts of Kevin Cheng of internetpens.net - whose reputation for good and friendly service has brought many to his virtual door in recent years. Danitrio has also been responsible for a significant revival of interest in the old-fashioned 'eyedropper' filling system in quality fountain pens, something which adds to the mystique of the brand.

I have owned what is now known as a 'long cigar' Nakaya for several years. I have also recently acquired a Danitrio Mikado. Having had some time to get into writing with the latter, it seems worthwhile now to undertake a mini-review comparing these two superficially similar pens, for the benefit of others.


Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla



For the purpose of this review, I have chosen the analogy of a famous and very Japanese 'monster movie' tradition to characterise the differences between these two pens, which shows up most notably in their filling systems. In this case, I identify the Danitrio Mikado with the original 'Godzilla' (in Japanese, 'Gojira') because of its old-style eyedropper filling system, and the Nakaya as 'Mechagodzilla' (in the movie, a robotic equivalent of Godzilla from space) because of its modern cartridge/converter filling system. I hope this makes sense as a bit of pen and movie fun ninja.gif

But now for a few salient comparisons:

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

I'm not going to go into ultimate measurement detail here; you can see from the photos that overall the Nakaya 'long cigar' is longer and thinner than the rather more 'chubby' Danitrio Mikado. Neither are small pens. The Mikado is significantly larger at 6.5" capped than a Montblanc 149, for example. The proportions are also somewhat different. The Nakaya appears more elongated, the most important aspect of this being the longer nib section. The barrel and section of the Mikado are thicker than those of the Nakaya, but shorter, especially the section.



Nakaya (top) and Mikado (bottom) - uncapped

In my view I would have to judge that the Nakaya scores important points over the Mikado in this area of design; its section is easier to hold, being longer, and by virtue of its shape the fingers of the writer are much less likely to slip off the end and touch the inky feed. The Mikado has a short, thick section and having gotten used to this I often find my fingers resting on the cap threads to avoid touching the feed (yes I have done this!).

I have no problem with the balance of either pen. Being made of ebonite neither pen is overly heavy. I have average size hands. The Nakaya is a little longer and lighter; the Mikado is a little shorter and heavier. Either works for me and they both feel good in the hand. I think for me personally the Mikado has the edge in this area.



Nakaya (top) and Mikado (bottom) - capped

FIT & FINISH

The two pens are very close in this area but it is difficult to generalise with pens which have such a great element of hand-finishing, and this is so much of the essence of the spirit of the pen. I chose the Tamenuri finish in both cases; this is a mulit-layered natural Urushi lacquer finish which is applied layer by layer over weeks and in some cases months. It is highly polished and feels sleek but not too slippery to the touch. The impression one gets from looking closely at a tamenuri finish is that of looking into the depths of a pool which grows darker the deeper you look. In this case the base finish of the Nakaya is a blackish-red, and the Mikado is more of a dark red-brown. Both grow lighter towards edges and ends, ie the cap rims, section rims, threads and cap and barrel ends. Affected by light, the colour also changes very slowly over time, and it looks different in different types and brightnesses of light.

My impression here is that the Nakaya has a slight edge in quality of finish, being a little more evenly applied than that on the Mikado which has more variation in tone from one end of the pen to the other. The cap of the Mikado is in fact a little lighter than the barrel, but there is some variation throughout. Now this is not so much of a criticism when you consider the hand-crafted process involved with its inevitable variations but it is worth pointing out. However there is some additional kudos to the Mikado's exclusivity, as the section is signed individually by the artist/craftsman who has made it (Master Maki-e Artist, Mr. Koichiro Okazaki) - a fine traditional touch.

Interestingly, on a practical note, the threads on the Mikado are bare black ebonite, not urushi coated (unlike the Nakaya), so that although this interrupts the finish rather abruptly it is of practical advantage in obtaining a good secure tightening of the cap. Though equally I have never had the cap slip off the Nakaya.

In both pens all parts appear to fit well, and threads are machined precisely, although there is nothing special about the Nakaya's standard cartridge-converter filling system components. What stands out in this regard however is the eyedropper piston on the end of the Mikado's barrel, which lines up so precisely that you would be hard put to spot that it is a separate section without looking closely for the join. Impressive.

THE BUSINESS END

The nibs in both cases are of gold, and are of the 'soft' or springy variety (not flex as such). Here the similarity ends, as the single-tone Nakaya nib is a Japanese Fine and therefore definitely on the XXF side in terms of line width. It is also a little stiffer. The two-tone Mikado nib is significantly larger physically, a European made Fine and much wider than the Nakaya to begin with. The fact that the Mikado features a huge feed and firehose-like flow makes the line seem even wider with many inks, so much so that I have been experimenting with 'dryer' flowing inks to bring the line width down a little.



Nakaya nib, section and barrel threads



Mikado nib, section and barrel threads

Both nibs lay down a good solid line, the Nakaya by its very nature being lighter and more precise, remarkably so on smooth paper. However such a very fine nib has its disadvantages when using highly textured papers and the Mikado nib is clearly the better tool for these. Horses for courses as they say.

FILL HER UP!

Well, after the obvious similarities of these two pens, which have a similar philosophy, we come to the aspect of both that really defines them and sets them apart from each other - the filling system.

I've already mentioned that the Nakaya uses a bog-standard modern cartridge converter system. It works, it works well and will be useful for those who like to change their inks around frequently or use cartridges for their obvious advantages. It is not an exciting system but it does the job. The Mikado is VERY different.

The Danitrio Mikado is something not often seen these days in a production pen: a traditional Japanese eyedropper filling fountain pen with ink shutoff for safety. Amazing. One of the simplest and most traditional filling systems ever made and yet - although slow to use - very effective. Ink capacity of such a system, which uses most of the barrel to store ink, is several times that of a long cartridge pen and more so than such a pen using a converter which takes up a lot of space in the barrel. A great system for those who wish to write for a long time with one colour of ink. It is also a very 'Zen' system, being elegantly simple, and the rather involved filling process definitely gives off echoes of the famous Japanese tea ceremony! By the simple expedient of an ink shutoff piston operated by twisting the end of the barrel, the pen can also be made pretty much leakproof, which is very important when carrying so much ink around with you! But I still wouldn't recommend carrying either of these pens nib down in a pocket, just in case...

AND FINALLY...

You know, at first glance these pens seem very similar but in so many ways they are not. Neither are they perfect. In my opinion the Nakaya has the edge on physical handling thanks to better section design. It is also a very precise writer with the nib chosen in this case, but that has its own disadvantages which are a characteristic of the nib and not the pen overall. On the other hand, the Danitrio Mikado is one wet writer; a disadvantage if you are looking for a truly fine line, and finer nibs are not available so maybe a trip to the nibmeister should be factored in if you are, or at least some experimentation with inks, but that's part of the fun. The Nakaya is quite quick to use with its modern filling system; the Mikado is slow to use because of the eyedropper filling but that is, IMHO, part of the 'Zen' of the pen.

I bought the Danitrio Mikado to complement my Nakaya. It does so by virtue of its differences, and yet the two pens come together in the 'Zen' expressed so well by both in the common elements of simple, elegant, traditional Japanese craftsmanship.

But does Godzilla (the Mikado) land a winning blow over Mechagodzilla (the Nakaya)? Well, I don't see a knockout myself - maybe Godzilla wins on points this time. But nonetheless I'm sure we'll see these two Japanese monsters of the pen world come back fighting in a sequel sometime...

- Stuart
Rincewind

"Luck is my middle name. Mind you, my first name is Bad."
--Rincewind, "Interesting Times"

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#2 Abhik

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 13:33

Rincewind (Stuart) nice sum-up of similarities and differences of these two beauties! Very well judged review complemented by superb photos!
A good review after a long time!!
Warm regards,
Abhik.

#3 AndyHayes

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Posted 23 April 2008 - 15:59

That's a wonderful in depth review with some excellent pictures. Thanks a lot for making the effort.
Skype: andyhayes

#4 Rincewind

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Posted 23 April 2008 - 18:34

Thanks guys, hopefully some will find this useful when choosing such pens biggrin.gif
Rincewind

"Luck is my middle name. Mind you, my first name is Bad."
--Rincewind, "Interesting Times"

#5 Rincewind

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 20:38

A small supplemental.

I am currently trying these pens with various Diamine inks plus one or two of the Noodlers, Waterman and Lamy varieties, and will report back in due course.

- Stuart
Rincewind

"Luck is my middle name. Mind you, my first name is Bad."
--Rincewind, "Interesting Times"

#6 FrankB

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 21:41

This is a great review, Stuart. It is both entertaining and informative.

I am an old guy and many, if not most, of the pens I grew up with were smallish. I am enjoying this era of the mega pen. I have not gotten as large as the Mikado yet, but this year is not yet over.

#7 Brian

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 22:55

Darn! I missed this great review earlier. Thank you very much for posting it. I've tried both the Dani Takumi in ebonite (no urushi), a friends Nakaya Shu in writer's size, and a Namiki Yukari Royale in both the black and red colors.

I can definately see a Nakaya in my future, but probably a very humble black urushi writers with rhodium clip, and a stub monotone nib.

Best regards.

#8 Doug C

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Posted 11 July 2008 - 13:16

Wonderful, Creative Review (I just now found it).

Now that you have had a little more time to experiment, have your opinions changed? I have two Nakayas, and love them both, but I have been thinking of getting a Danitrio. It has been tough to find good information on these pens-neither the Danitrio site, or Winedoc's site offer much. Doesnt matter that much at this point, since I still need to save up a little more, but it would be nice to have enough data to start to zero in on a choice.

By the way, is that a Dani pen pillow? I think I like that better than my Nakaya. Again, where are the Dani accessories found?




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#9 georges zaslavsky

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Posted 20 January 2012 - 19:50

outstanding review of two great pens :thumbup: thanks for sharing

Edited by georges zaslavsky, 20 January 2012 - 19:50.

Pens are like watches , once you start a collection, you can hardly go back. And pens like all fine luxury items do improve with time

#10 leod

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Posted 20 January 2012 - 22:44

good review but we need a sequel :P
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing

#11 Mr. Sweet

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Posted 13 February 2013 - 16:08

Thanks for the review. It's nice to see these two titans in comparison.

#12 Sblakers

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Posted 14 February 2013 - 17:26

This is such a good review. Very creative and nails the differences objectively. Bravo !

#13 VirtuThe3rd

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Posted 14 February 2013 - 18:01

What an informative review!
Thank you so much for sharing. :)

From Japan.

#14 ArchiMark

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Posted 14 February 2013 - 19:56

Great comparison review!

Given all the time that has elapsed since it was written, it would be great and very useful, like others have said to see an update on these pens....

:thumbup:

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