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A Visit To Stylo Art Karuizawa


mongrelnomad
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http://i.imgur.com/WIYALJz.jpgStylo Art Karuizawa

 

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.

http://i.imgur.com/PkJ0iHB.jpg

The 'showroom'.

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.

http://i.imgur.com/CaQomtx.jpg

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.

http://i.imgur.com/RmxWExL.jpg

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.

http://i.imgur.com/QZAdNKB.jpg

Ink-stained and urushied pens (the ink used is for fountain pens, among them Pilot Blue-Black and Iroshizuku Momiji).

http://i.imgur.com/TDM2oNp.jpgMore ornate urushi.

http://i.imgur.com/AITjRAK.jpgMaki-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.

http://i.imgur.com/z6Ed8w6.jpg

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.

http://i.imgur.com/XbV814R.jpg

Motoshi working on my nib.

Edited by mongrelnomad

Too many pens; too little writing.

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Great write-up. I wonder if he would take an order with a larger grip. I saw some pens that don't use the regular plastic grips on Sailor, etc and a ebonite looking one that he makes I'd assume.

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Thanks for this write up. I have several of their pens and have enjoyed speaking with them at pen shows. I was happy to see so many pens being prepared for the SF pen show I am planning to attend.

 

Your generosity of time to write up your visit is greatly appreciated.

If you want less blah, blah, blah and more pictures, follow me on Instagram!

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What an amazing story! I'd love to see pictures of some of the locales you mentioned (i.e. neighbourhood, mountains, hamlet, garden) to get a better sense of the landscape! And one quick question if I may: if you are a foreigner, how could your family have purchased a home in the 1940s? That part confused me a bit.

 

Thanks for the excellent read :)

Visit Pen&Design!

 

@penanddesign

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Great story. Thank you for sharing this and the enlightening photos.

The prizes of life are never to be had without trouble - Horace
Kind words do not cost much, yet they accomplish much - Pascal

You are never too old to set a new goal or dream a new dream - C.S. Lewis

 Favorite shop:https://www.fountainpenhospital.com

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Thanks for sharing your visit. I too am looking forward to seeing the Stylo Art pens at the San Francisco show.

 

David

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Thank you for sharing this wonderful pilgrimage with us! I have not visited Japan, nor seen these pens, except in photographs & can only say, thanks to your post, I felt as though I was along for the visit & could almost imagine the added excitement of seeing the pens in the setting described. Thank you for adding to my experience, a very unexpected & wonderful journey! I know you will enjoy your pen & am happy you had an opportunity to select it from it's place of creation.

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Thanks for a wonderful write-up. I enjoyed the visit you shared with us so much, and can't even imagine how terrific it must have been in person.

 

I have seen Stylo Art pens at shows - I guess it must have been LA where they were next to Eboya - but next time I will look at them through entirely new eyes, and will probably have to buy one.

 

Thanks again for a wonderfully told story.

Edited by whichwatch
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Thanks all; glad you enjoyed it. I just thought that it was such a special experience, I really ought to share.

 

Great write-up. I wonder if he would take an order with a larger grip. I saw some pens that don't use the regular plastic grips on Sailor, etc and a ebonite looking one that he makes I'd assume.

I saw, and held, some of the new pens with hand-turned ebonite sections (about six in total). Ultimately, I decided against them, but only because they were urushi-only, and the woods used were not to my taste. It's worth asking - Motoshi speaks incredibly good English.

 

What an amazing story! I'd love to see pictures of some of the locales you mentioned (i.e. neighbourhood, mountains, hamlet, garden) to get a better sense of the landscape! And one quick question if I may: if you are a foreigner, how could your family have purchased a home in the 1940s? That part confused me a bit.

Thanks for the excellent read :)

 

 

I'll see if I can take a few photos of the immediate area and post them...

 

My grandfather was a German refugee from the Nazis who landed in Japan just before Pearl Harbour. He met, and married, a Japanese woman - my grandmother - and made his home in Tokyo. Though the family lived in Tokyo until the late '60s, they summered in Karuizawa. Three generations later, and a continent away, we still do...

Too many pens; too little writing.

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What an amazing story! I'd love to see pictures of some of the locales you mentioned (i.e. neighbourhood, mountains, hamlet, garden) to get a better sense of the landscape! And one quick question if I may: if you are a foreigner, how could your family have purchased a home in the 1940s? That part confused me a bit.

 

Thanks for the excellent read :)

 

Here is the neighbourhood on the way to the supermarket today and, in the last one, you can see Mount Asama cloaked in clouds in the distance...

 

 

 

 

http://i.imgur.com/a5PEte8.jpg

 

http://i.imgur.com/uFQdEuD.jpg

Edited by mongrelnomad

Too many pens; too little writing.

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Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture mmm... maybe if we have pen folks going to visit Nagano Prefecture

Indeed. Probably should have mentioned that Karuizawa's in Nagano Prefecture. Conveniently it's on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line between Tokyo and Kanazawa - the train takes about 1 hour. Though I didn't require a lift, Motoshi kindly offered to pick me up from the station.

Edited by mongrelnomad

Too many pens; too little writing.

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Here is the neighbourhood on the way to the supermarket today and, in the last one, you can see Mount Asama cloaked in clouds in the

Thank you for posting! It looks so peaceful...Almost like a Ghibli movie come to life!

Visit Pen&Design!

 

@penanddesign

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Hi Mongrelnomad,

 

Thank you for sharing your experience of the visit to Karuizawa and Stylo-Art.

Since you have seen their pens, may I ask how you would compare them to Hakase? Considering that they use wood, ebonite for making the body of the pen (like Hakase) and the same nib too?

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I don't think it's fair to either Stylo Art or Hakase to speak of them in the same breath. What they set out to do is completely different - one crafts, in essence, barrels and caps from a myriad of different woods while using existing furniture from other makers; the other creates truly bespoke pens from a number of unusual and disparate materials (tortoise-shell, buffalo horn, celluloid and, yes, a very small number of woods).

 

The history and workmanship of Hakase is really unmatched (Motoshi dipped his head in reverence when I mentioned the company), but so is the ambition in the pens themselves, and indeed, the price...

Edited by mongrelnomad

Too many pens; too little writing.

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if I would compare a Hakase pen it's proper to compare it to an Ohashidou pen since they are the "custom" tiers of their respective OEM brands Pilot and Sailor...

or so I think

I've never held an Ohashidou - never managed to be in Tokyo at the right time - but I would be inclined to agree with you...

Too many pens; too little writing.

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