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TAG Kyoto - kyo-no-oto kokeiro


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TAG Kyoto – kyo-no-oto kokeiro



TAG is a stationary shop in Kyoto (Japan) that produces some interesting soft watercolour-style inks. With the kyo-no-oto series they produce a line of inks that replicates traditional Japanese dye colours. According to available only info, the manufacturing process of the kyo-no-oto inks follows traditional dying techniques dating back to the Heian era between the years 794 and 1185. The inks come in 40 ml bottles, packaged in luxurious thick paper with a texture that feels like heavy watercolour paper.



For this review, kokeiro is the shining star in the spotlight. The olive-green ink’s name is inspired by old mossy trees and stones that can often be found in Kyoto’s beautiful gardens. It is a symbol of the Wabi-Sabi aesthetics that permeates Japanese culture. According to Wikipedia, the Wabi-Sabi world view is centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of appreciating beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.” The yellow-green kokeiro embodies this aspect well. It is a beautiful ink with intricate complexities, but also with its share of imperfections that make you appreciate its beauty even more. With the right combination of the holy trio ink-pen-paper, kokeiro can get an almost old-green-gold shine that looks truly beautiful. This is not a workplace ink, but one for personal and intimate writing. I am totally enamored by this kyo-no-oto ink!


The ink is not meant for dry pens – these don’t give it enough room to express its beauty. Kokeiro is at its best with wet pens and broader nibs (M and above), where it showcases its dreamy beauty, laying down a well-saturated line with truly stunning shading. With dry pens and/or fine nibs, the ink not only feels unlubricated, but the ink is also too unsaturated resulting in an overly light line that makes it difficult to read. Choice of paper is also important: kokeiro feels not so great in combination with hard-surface paper. I like it most on slightly absorbent paper. But once you hit the right combination, I guarantee you writer’s heaven! Kokeiro is a perfect companion for my Pelikan M400 White Tortoise. The gold-green colour almost exactly matches the colour of the Pelikan's binde.



To show you the impact of saturation on the ink’s look & feel on paper, I made some scribbles where I really saturated portions of a strip of 52 gsm Tomoe River paper with ink. This gives you a good idea of what the ink is capable of in terms of colour range. Kokeiro has a fairly broad dynamic range, ranging from a light yellow-green to a much darker olive-green. The contrast between light and dark is not harsh though. This translates to strong but still soft and aesthetic shading, that really adds character and beauty to your writing. Well executed!



The ink’s chromatography is a work of beauty, and shows the craftsmanship of TAG Kyoto’s ink masters. The subtle and complex mix of light-blue and yellow dyes combines to the soft beauty of the olive-green kokeiro. The bottom part of the chroma seems to indicate a certain measure of water resistance, but in reality this is not the case. Kokeiro is not an ink that can survive watery accidents.



I’ve tested the ink on a wide variety of paper – from crappy Moleskine to high-end Tomoe River. On every small band of paper I show you:

  • An ink swab, made with a cotton Q-tip
  • 1-2-3 pass swab, to show increasing saturation
  • An ink scribble made with an M-nib Lamy Safari
  • The name of the paper used, written with a B-nib Pelikan M200
  • A small text sample, written with a B-nib Nakaya (western fine)
  • Source of the quote, with a Pelikan M400 with M nib
  • Drying times of the ink on the paper (with the M-nib Safari)

Kokeiro looks good on all types of paper – both white and creamy ones. The ink shows a small amount of feathering on lower quality paper, together with some show-through and bleed-through. With hard papers, I personally found the ink to feel fairly unlubricated, which detracts from the writing experience. Kokeiro seems to prefer slightly more absorbent paper. Drying times with the M-nib Safari are in the 5 second range. With the wet M-nib Pelikan the drying time approximately doubles. I really enjoyed the ink most with a wet B-nib Pelikan in my Paperblanks Embellished Manuscript journal.






I’ve also added a few photos to give you another view on the ink. Scanned images and photos often capture different aspects of the ink’s colour & contrast. That’s why I present them both. In this case, the photo’s capture kokeiro’s colour best – the scans of the writing samples seem to be a bit too yellow.





Writing with different nib sizes
The picture below shows the effect of nib sizes on the writing. The top part shows kokeiro with my Safari pens in different nib sizes. Here the ink is too unlubricated, and lays down too light a line. This TAG Kyoto ink should definitely be used with wet pens and broader nibs, like the pens I used in the bottom part. Combine broad & wet, and kokeiro blossoms, rewarding you with a surreal beauty. The  strong shading and soft olive-green colour combine to create a richness and elegance that lift your writing to a whole new level. 



Related inks
To compare the olive-green kokeiro with related inks, I use my nine-grid format with the currently reviewed ink at the center. This format shows the name of related inks, a saturation sample, a 1-2-3 swab and a water resistance test – all in a very compact format. I don’t have enough inks in this colour-range to fill the grid, so I had to add an number of more distant relatives. The Noir Dorée is not a commercial ink, but a 5:1 mix of Callifolio Heure Doréé and Noir. The ink I found most similar is Diamine Wagner, which seems to be a bit more yellow, but looks quite alike in writing. I will definitely explore this further in a future ink shoot-out.



Inkxperiment – forest god
With every review, I try to create an inkxperiment using only the ink I am presenting. Such a one-ink drawing works great to show off the colour-range nuances that are present in the ink. These inkxperiments are the favourite part of my reviews: always loads of fun and a perfect way to experiment with inks using a number of different techniques. In a previous review I introduced a river goddess. This inkxperiment continues on that same theme, and shows a forest god, with the yellow-green representing the golden sunrays shining through the green forest canopy. The forest god is inspired by the Celtic horned god Cernunnos – see the corresponding Wikipedia entry for more information.



I started with an A4 piece of HP photo paper, and a small doodle in my daily journal. To paint the background, I dripped ink in different water/ink ratios on a piece of kitchen towel. The ink transfers to the photo paper through the kitchen towel, creating the background pattern of the forest floor. I used a cutout of Cernunnos to draw his silhouette on the photo paper, and then used a brush and fountain pen to paint in the forest god. The trees on the left were drawn in with a glass dip pen and pure kokeiro. Final touches were added with a B-nibbed Safari. The resulting drawing shows what can be achieved with this beautiful yellow-green ink in a more artistic context.



TAG kyo-no-oto kokeiro is a true Wabi-Sabi ink. An ink with imperfections and shortcomings, but that is also of a phenomenal beauty when pen/ink/paper come together in the right combination. I really like the softness and complexity of this TAG Kyoto ink. In my opinion, one of the successes in the kyo-no-oto series.


Technical test results on Rhodia N° 16 notepad paper, written with Pelikan M400, M-nib



Back-side of writing samples on different paper types






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Thank you for the review. I bought a bottle some time ago, and used it exactly once because I found the color too watery for my taste. Perhaps it's time to try it again in a wetter pen -- I have a couple in mind. 

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Exquisite review.... I enjoyed reading your text and appreciated your contentment with this ink...

You might want to do the shoot out with R&K Alt Goldgrün.... 

The bottom part of the chroma seems to indicate a certain measure of water resistance, but in reality this is not the case. Kokeiro is not an ink that can survive watery accidents.

This embody well the transience of life so well...


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Yes, the maker has a strong aesthetic.  When the TAG Kyoto inks were introduced several years ago, a member of this forum wrote a comment that I can no longer find but that read something like, "Tell them more dye," suggesting that the new maker look for inspiration to Sailor's inks produced for Kingdom Note and another shop, whose name now escapes me.  I am glad that the unique character of the line has been maintained. 

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Always a pleasure to read your reviews - thank you!

Not my colour for writing or highlighting, prefer the warmer end of the spectrum, but looks great for artwork.

Pens: Conid Kingsize ebonite (x2)
Inks:   KWZ Dark Brown,  KWZ IG Orange,  
 Diamine Burnt Sienna,  Diamine Raw Sienna,

           Diamine Warm Brown,   Diamine Oxblood,  Diamine Monaco Red,  Diamine Ochre,  

           GvFC Hazelnut,  GvFC India Red,  Noodler's Nightshade,  MB Homage to Hadrian,

           MB James Dean Rebel Red

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Thanks for the review, @namrehsnoom! :)  This is one I'd need to try to figure out how I like it, but I always enjoy your reviews. :)

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Not a color for me, but I love the artwork.  

Thanks as usual for the review (and my wallet also thanks you).

Ruth Morrisson aka inkstainedruth

"It's very nice, but frankly, when I signed that list for a P-51, what I had in mind was a fountain pen."

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Wonderful review (happy sigh here). I love this line of inks, and this is no exception - you've captured all the lovely things about it, without losing sight of its shortcomings. Which makes is all the nicer IMO. The inkxperiment is, once again, a triumph!


Thank you as always @namrehsnoom :)

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Your reviews always leave me (and surely many others here) in no doubt about an ink's look and behaviour. Thank you so much. 🥰

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